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What Are Wh- Questions in English?

January 31, 2023

Asking and answering questions is such an important part of having a conversation, and it's something language students learn early on in their studies.

One of our subscribers informed us that her students were struggling to answer Wh- questions in English. What’s the meaning of the different Wh- words? How are they all used?

In this blog post, we explain what Wh- questions are with examples and give you practical tips to help your students form these types of questions with confidence. Make sure to try our fun activity at the end!

What are Wh- questions and examples?

Wh- questions are questions that use specific words starting with the letters “wh,” like “who,” “when,” and “what.” “How” is also often included in this list. These words are often used when we want to request information from someone.

The most common Wh- question words in English are: “who,” “what,” “where,” “when,” “why,” “which,” “whose,” and “how.”

Let’s take a closer look at each Wh- word with examples for context!


Use “who” to ask about a person.


Question Answer
Who is that? It’s our new teacher.
Who did you invite to your party? I invited Maria, Lee, and Abdul.


Use “what” to ask about a thing.


Question Answer
What is your favorite movie? I love The Shawshank Redemption.
What did you do last night? I did my homework.

“What” is often used with another word such as time (to ask about clock time).


Question Answer
What time is it? It’s 4:30.
What time does the show start? It starts at 8:00 pm.

“What” is also used before another noun to talk about a choice. It’s usually interchangeable with “which.”


Question Answer
What movie do you want to watch? Let’s watch the new Star Wars.
Which movie do you want to watch? Let’s watch the new Star Wars.
What kind of ice cream do you want? I would like chocolate, please.
Which kind of ice cream do you want? I would like chocolate, please.


Use “where” to ask about a place.


Question Answer
Where do you live? I live in California.
Where is your school? It’s on Somerset Street.


Use “when” to ask about time. When asking about clock time, it's usually interchangeable with "what time."


Question Answer
When do you start your new job? I start next month.
When does the class start? It starts at 9:00 am.
What time does the class start? It starts at 9:00 am.


Use “why” to ask about a reason.


Question Answer
Why do you like reading so much? I like it because I can learn new things.
Why did you call me? I called you to invite you to my party.


Use “which” to ask about a choice.


Question Answer
Which do you prefer, chicken or steak? I prefer chicken.
Which dress did you decide to wear? I decided to wear the black one.


Use “whose” to ask about possession.


Question Answer
Whose book is this? It’s mine.
Whose car did you borrow? I borrowed my friend’s car.


Use “how” to ask about a method/way.


Question Answer
How do you turn on this computer? You have to hold down the power button.
How did your presentation go? It went well.

Questions with “how” also often involve the way someone is feeling.


Question Answer
How are you? I’m fine.
How do you feel? I’m nervous.
How are you feeling? Not great. I caught a cold.

“How” is often used with another word such as “often” (to ask about frequency), “much” (to ask about cost), or “many” (to ask about an amount).


Question Answer
How often do you brush your teeth? I brush my teeth twice a day.
How much does this jacket cost? It costs $75.00.
How many dogs do you have? We have two.

Print this cheat sheet to help your English language learners remember the meaning of each Wh- question word.

Wh- Question Words in English printable cheat sheet.

How to form Wh- questions using patterns

There are two basic patterns you can use to form Wh- questions in English.

1. With no auxiliary

Wh- word + be + subject


  • Who is that?
  • How are you?

2. With auxiliary

Wh- word + auxiliary + subject + verb


  • What do you want?
  • Why did you quit?
What’s an auxiliary verb?

In questions, an auxiliary verb uses words like “do,” “does,” or “did.” It can also be a modal like “can” or “should.” For different tenses, it can be “will” (future), “have” (present perfect), etc.

For basic question patterns and the difference between Yes/No and Wh- questions, see our blog post on Question Formation in English.

Fun class activity with Wh- questions

Ready to get your students practicing questions with Wh- words? For an easy warm-up or filler activity, try doing this student-designed Q&A activity. Here’s how it works: 

  1. Cut up enough blank cards to have five (or 10) per student.
  2. Get students to write conversation-style Wh- questions of their choosing on their cards. If needed, put some examples on the board (e.g., What’s your favorite dish? When did you start studying English?).
  3. When they’ve finished writing their questions, collect the cards and shuffle them together.
  4. Put students into small groups and divide the cards up evenly.
  5. Have students take turns choosing a question and asking it to one or more of their group members. (You can choose an overall time limit, such as 20 minutes, or let them talk until their cards run out.)

Related materials

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in January 2018 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

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Comments (16)

EnNaji (Guest)

Thank you

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

You're very welcome!

Vinay (Guest)

Hi, Tanya Trusler
Thanks for making the viewers understand these minor but important things. I want to add some more. If answer of any question starting from wh is given in hindi, they are not begun with क्या in hindi.

Who is your favourite teacher?
Where are you from?

On the other hand if any question begins with 'be' form of the verb, they are always answered in english with yes or no and in hindi, हाँ या नहीं .
Is't it interested?

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Hi Vinay,

Do you mean that Yes/No questions are similar in Hindi and English, but Wh- questions are different? That is interesting!

Bruce Y.(Teacher)

Thanks, Tanya! Your lessons are so helpful. I have also noticed that some of my LINC 2/3 and 3/4 students are still having trouble forming questions. I am going to try your warm up this afternoon. It looks like fun!

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Sounds great, Bruce! I hope they enjoy it. Thanks for commenting!

Sayyid T.(Teacher)

There is a mistake in the beginning (Use who to ask about a person.Who is that?
It’s our new teacher.
• It’s our new teacher. We do not use "It" for a teacher .He \she is our teacher is the correct form

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Hi Sayyid, thanks for your comment! While it's true that we commonly use he or she for a who question, the answer often reflects the question itself. So if we use "Who is this/that?" we can respond with an indefinite pronoun: "This/That/It is our new teacher." The word "teacher" answers the question "Who." You could also respond with: "He/She is our teacher." All are correct.

Joseph Adams(Guest)

How are you?

Reply to Comment

Lei Kayanuma(Author)

Hello Joseph! I'm great, thanks. I hope you are doing well and enjoy the blog post :)

Hablemos F.(Teacher)

I loved this blog. Thank you so much. Great scaffolding and what a great resource for educators.

Reply to Comment

Lei Kayanuma(Author)

Thanks, Hablemos! We're happy you enjoyed the blog. I will pass on your comments to Tanya!

Malu F.(Member)

hi how are you ?

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Hi Malu, I'm good! How are you? Great example of a Wh- question in context.

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