In English grammar, a “wh- word” is one of the function words used to begin a wh- question: what, who, whom, whose, which, when, where, why, and how.

Nouns

      • what, whatever
      • who, whoever
      • whom, whomever

Adjectives

      • whose
      • which, whichever

Adverbs

      • when, whenever
      • where, wherever
      • why
      • how, however

While how and however don’t actually begin with wh-, it is said that these two words should be “treated as honorary members of the wh- family.”

question wordfunctionexample sentence
whatasking for information about somethingWhat is your name?
asking for repetition or confirmationWhat? I can’t hear you.
You did what?
what…forasking for a reason, asking whyWhat did you do that for?
whenasking about timeWhen did he arrive?
whereasking in or at what place or positionWhere do they live?
whichasking about choiceWhich colour do you want?
whoasking what or which person or people (subject)Who opened the door?
whomasking what or which person or people (object)Whom did you see?
whoseasking about ownershipWhose are these keys?
Whose turn is it?
whyasking for reason, asking what…forWhy do you say that?
why don’tmaking a suggestionWhy don’t I help you?
howasking about mannerHow does this work?
asking about condition or qualityHow was your exam?
how + adj/advasking about extent or degree
how fardistanceHow far is Kovalam from Trivandrum city?
how longlength (time or space)How long will it take?
how manyquantity (countable)How many cars are there?
how muchquantity (uncountable)How much money do you have?
how oldageHow old are you?
how come (informal)asking for reason, asking whyHow come I can’t see her?
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Devika Panikar has been teaching English Language and Literature for 14 years now. She is an Assistant Professor with the Directorate of Collegiate Education under the Government of Kerala. She teaches at the Government Colleges coming under this directorate and is now posted at the Department of English, H.H. The Maharaja’s Government College for Women, Thiruvananthapuram. This website is a collection of the lecture notes that she prepared by referring various sources, for her students’ perusal. It has been compiled here for the sake of future generations.

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