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Getting Smarter through Language

Question Words in English | Unit Overview

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What Are Question Words?

Question words are function words that we use to ask questionss about people, places, things, times, choices, manner, possession, and so on.

We ask a question using a question word to know specific information about something or someone.

Lesson objectives: Learn question words in English.

Goals: Identify question words and their role in the sentence; learn how to ask questionss using question words to refer to people, places, things, times, choices, manner or process, possession, and so on.

Prerequisite: Lesson requires a basic understanding of the verb to be in the present. This lesson is written for basic-level students, but the examples for question words are both basic and intermediate; for challenging verb constructions, students should focus on the function of the question words rather than the verb tense.



Yes-No Questions and Question Words

Yes-No Questions

You can ask questions to know if something is or is not what you think. When you ask a yes-no question, you confirm or disconfirm information.

Maybe you have the information, or maybe you are not sure but you have an idea. You just want to know if the information is true, valid, or correct.

  • Examples Using Yes-No Questions
  • Are you from Florida? — No. I’m from California.

  • Is John at home? — No, he isn’t. He’s at work.

  • Is John Ecks a doctor? — No, he’s a teacher.

  • Is that your father? — No, that’s my uncle.

  • Am I wrong? — No. You’re right.

Question Words

You use question words when you want to know specific information. For example, when you ask, “What is your name?” you want specific information about a person, that is, their name. When you ask, “Where is your brother today?” you want to know a specific place or location.

List of Common Question Words

You ask questions using question words to know information you do not have. Each question word gives you a different type of information, for example, information about a person, a place, a thing, a time, and so on.

  • Who? Asking about a person.
  • Who is that man? — That’s Mr. Ecks. He’s my teacher.

  • (on the phone): Hello? Who’s this? — Hi! It’s John.

  • Who is your brother? — Enrico is my brother.

  • Links:

    Lesson 2: who, what, when, where.

    Lesson 3: who, whom.

  • Whom? Asking about a person (as the object of the verb).
  • Note. In very formal grammar, “who” is the subject of the verb, and “whom” is the object. “Whom” is used only in very formal situations. If you are not sure, use “who.”

  • Whom did you see at the party yesterday? — I saw my friends. (I saw them.)

  • For whom is this present? — It’s for my mother. (It’s for her.)

  • Link: Lesson 3: who, whom.

  • What? Asking about a thing or an idea.
  • What is your name? — My name is John.

  • What is in that box? — My books are in the box.

  • What are those? — They’re paper clips..

  • What is a “retractable knife?” — It's this kind of tool here.

  • Links

    Lesson 2: who, what, when, where.

    Lesson 7: Expressions with “what”.

  • When? Asking about the time.
  • When is the party? — It’s on Saturday.

  • When is Halloween this year? — Halloween is always on October 31.

  • When is John coming? — He’s coming tomorrow.

  • Link: Lesson 2: who, what, when, where.

  • Where? Asking about a place or location.
  • Where are your parents right now? — They’re at work.

  • Where is Brazil? — It’s in South America

  • Where is Mr. Ecks from? — He’s from Los Angeles.

  • Link: Lesson 2: who, what, when, where.

  • Which? Asking about choices or alternatives.
  • Which language is more difficult: English or German?

    — I think German is more difficult than English.

  • Which season is your favorite: spring, summer, fall, or winter? — Spring is my favorite season.

  • Susan is a waiter at a restaurant...

    [Waiter] We have chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry ice cream. We also have chocolate cake and apple pie. Which would you like?

    [Susan] I’d like the ice cream please.

    [Waiter] Chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry?

    [Susan] Which one is your favorite?

    [Waiter] The chocolate ice cream is delicious!

    [Susan] Okay. I’ll have that please.

  • Link: Lesson 4: what, which.

  • Why? Asking about a reason or explanation.
  • Why can’t you sleep? — (Because) It’s too hot in the house.

  • Why is Mario at the hospital? — (Because) He’s visiting a sick friend.

  • Why is the sky blue? — Because of a phenomenon called Raleigh scattering.

  • Whose? Asking about possession.
  • Whose shoes are these? — They’re my shoes.

  • Whose laptop is this? — I’m not sure. I think it’s Anna’s laptop.

  • There’s a cup of tea on the table. Whose is it? — Oh, that’s my cup of tea.

  • In whose car are we going? — We’re going in my brother’s car.

  • Link: Lesson 6: Who, whom, whose.

  • How? Asking about manner, description, or process.
  • How is your food? — It’s delicious!

  • How do you say “love” in Spanish? — You say “amor.”

  • How do you become a linguist in the United States? — You complete a linguistics major in college.

  • Links:

    Lesson 5: why, how.

    Lesson 7: Expressions with question words.

Examples of Expressions Using Question Words

Some question words are used with nouns, adjectives, verbs, and phrases to create expressions.

  • Expressions using question words.
  • Use “how long” to ask about the length of something or the length of time.

    How long is the Amazon River? — It’s 6,400 km.

    How long is your class? — It’s 2 hours long.

  • Use what with nouns to ask for specific information about that noun. For example, you can ask about the color of an object, the month, the kind of an object, and so on.

    What color is your car? — It’s blue.

    What month is it? — It's .

    What kind of food is “phở?” — It's a Vietnamese soup.

  • Link: Lesson 7: Expressions with question words.

In the Question-Word Unit

To the Student: This unit covers the question words listed below. You can take one the whole unit or each lesson separately.

To the Teacher: You can assign all lessons as a unit or individual lessons.