Snap Language

Getting Smarter through Language

Question Words Why and How

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Lesson objectives: Learn question words in English.

Goals: Learn how to ask questions (a) using “why” to get specific information about the reason or explanation and (b) using “how” to get specific information about a the manner, a quality or description, or a process.

Prerequisite: Lesson requires a basic understanding of the verb to be in the present.

Level

 basic

Why?

Asking for the Reason

“Why” asks for specific information about the reason or explanation for something. For example, there is a reason in the following sentence: because it’s hungry.

The baby is crying because it’s hungry.

You can ask this question using why:

Why is the baby crying?

To answer this question you can say,

(The baby is crying) because it’s hungry.

It’s hungry.

  • Examples using “why” to ask for the reason
  • Why do you want to learn English? — Because I want to travel. I also want to understand English-speaking movies.

  • Why are you sad? — Because my best friend is moving to Germany for 2 years.

  • Why are you late? — The traffic is terrible this morning.

Asking for an Explanation

You can also use “why” to ask for an explanation. For example, in the following sentence, there is one explanation: because I have to get up early tomorrow.

I’m not going to the party because I have to wake up early to go to work tomorrow.

You can ask the following question using “why” to get an explanation:

Why aren’t you going to the party?

You can answer this question in two ways,

(I’m not going to the party) because I have to wake up early to go to work tomorrow.

I have to wake up early to go to work tomorrow.

  • Examples using “why” to ask for an explanation
  • Why do we sneeze — It can be an allergic reaction or a viral infection.

  • Why are many plants green? — Because they make chlorophyll, and chlorophyll is green.

  • Why don’t you like Mary? — She is never very nice to me.

Note. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish a reason from an explanation. If someone asks you for an explanation and you give them a reason, they simply clarify the question.

 

How?

Asking about a Manner, Quality, or Description

“How” asks for specific information about the manner or description. For example, the following sentence gives you a description: Exhausted.

I feel exhausted today.

You can ask this question using how:

How do you feel today?

To answer this question you can say,

I feel exhausted today.

Exhausted.

  • Examples using “how” to ask about the manner or a description
  • How is your food? — It’s very good, thanks.

  • How do you like your coffee? — With a little bit of sugar.

  • How is your English class? — It’s very good. I love it!

  • How is your hotel room ? — It’s very comfortable. I can see the beach from it.

How + Adjective, How + Adverb

You can use “how” with adjective and adverbs to ask for specific information about that adjective or adverb. For example, the following sentence expresses a quality of height.

Mount Everest is 737 meters tall.

You can ask this question using how and the adjective tall.

How tall is Mount Everest?

You can answer,

Mount Everest is 737 meters (tall).

It’s 737 meters (tall).

737 meters.

  • Examples using “how” + adjectives or adverbs
  • How old old are you? — Thirty-two. (I’m 32 years old.)

  • How expensive is that computer? — It’s not very expensive.

    How much does that computer cost? — $1,750.

  • How many computers do you have? — Only one.

  • How fluent are you in German? — I’m fluent enough to have conversations.

    How fluently do you speak German? — I’m fluent enough to have conversations.

  • How fast is this Lamborghini? — Its top speed is 190 mph (or 305 km/h).

    How fast does a Lamborghini go? — Its top speed is 190 mph (or 305 km/h).

  • How hot is it today? — It’s not bad. It’s only about 84°F (or 29°C).

Asking about a Process

You can also use “how” to ask for specific information about a process. For example, in the following sentence, there is one explanation: Push this button and wait for the light.

To cross the street, push this button and wait for the light.

You can ask the following question using “how” to get information about the process:

How do you cross the street here?

You can answer this question in two ways,

(To cross the street here,) push this button and wait for the light.

Push this button and wait for the light.

  • Examples using “how” to ask about a process
  • How does this machine work? — You need to turn it on first.

  • How do you copy text in Windows? — Highlight the text you want to copy. Then press Control‑C.

  • How are you learning English? — I’m taking a course. I also read the news in English, watch a lot of American movies, and listen to podcasts on the internet.

Practice

Complete Practice 1 to practice using “why” and “how.”

Other Lessons on Question Words

This list of lessons includes many other question words.