Wh- questions (open questions)

Essentially, there are two types of questions: Yes / No questions and Wh– questions. Wh– questions are so called because with the exception of the question word how, all the question words begin with the letters Wh. They are also called open questions because the number of possible responses is limitless. This means they must be answered with more information than just a simple “yes” or “no.”

Read lesson
 * en español
 * en français

Here are the wh- English question words.

  • who, whom
  • what
  • when
  • where
  • why
  • how
  • which
  • whose

Who and whom are used to obtain information about one or more people.

question   response
Who is at the door? Tom is at the door.
Who wants an apple? I want an apple.
Whom is he dating?
(Who is he dating?)
He is dating Anna.

Learn more about the difference between who and whom.

What is used to request information about somebody or something.

question   response
What is this? This is a bird.
What did she say? She said to be quiet.
What have they done? They’ve broken the window.

When is used to obtain information about the time period in which an action occurs.

question   response
When does Anna arrive? She arrives at 10:30.
When can I see you again? I don’t know.
When was the race? The race was yesterday.

Where is used to obtain information about the location of a person or thing.

question   response
Where does Natasha live? She lives in Miami.
Where were the keys? The keys were in the car.
Where have you been? We have been at the bank.

Why is used to obtain information about the reason something happens, or the reason somebody does something.

question   response
Why is the steet closed? They are repairing it..
Why did Alex leave? He had a meeting.
Why haven’t you called? I lost my cell phone.

In informal American English, "How come?" is sometimes used in place of "Why?"

Why is she late? = How come she’s late?
Why did he stay?  How come he stayed?
Why can’t you go? How come you can’t go?

How is used to obtain information about the way something happens, or the manner or way somebody behaves or does something.

question   response
How does this work? Push the red button.
How was your mother? She was much better.
How has the weather been? It’s been very rainy.
How will he win the race? By training every day.

Which is used to obtain information in order to make a comparison between two or more similar things or people.

question   response
Which of these pens is the best? The black one.
Which author do you enjoy? I enjoy reading Borges.
Which river is longer, the Nile or the Amazon? The Nile.
Which street leads downtown? The street on the left.

Whose is used to obtain information about who something belongs to.

question   response
Whose book is on the table? That’s Tom’s book.
Whose idea was that? It was her idea.
Whose child is coughing? He is my child.

 Be careful not to confuse whose with the contraction who’s (who is). In spoken English, these words sound exactly the same, but in writing they are very different. Learn more about who’s vs whose.

Related lessons

Read lesson
 * en español
 * en français