Which, What and who: question words

I. Determiners

  1. We can use which and what before nouns to ask questions about people or things
  • Which teacher do you like best?
  • Which colour do you want – green, red, yellow or brown?
  • What writers do you like?
  • What colour are your girl-friend’s eyes
  1. We usually prefer which when we are choosing between a small number, and what when we are choosing between  a large number.
  2. Before another determiner (for example the, my, these) or a pronoun, we use which of
  • Which of your teacher do you like best?
  • Which of them do you want

II. Pronouns

  1. We can use which, what and who as pronous, without nouns. We use who, not which for people
  • Who won- Smith or Fitzgibbon
  • Which would you prefer – wine or beer?
  • What would you like to eat?
  1. We usually use who , not whom , as an object
  • Who do you like best – your father or your mother?
  • Whom do you like best…? (is very formal)

What- Which- How

I. What + noun (What colour … ? / What kind … ? etc.)

  • What colour is your car?
  • What colour are your eyes?
  • What size is this shirt? 
  • What make is your TV set?
  • What time is it?
  • What day is it today?
  • What kind of job do you want? (or What type of job … ? / What sort of job ..?)

What without a noun:

  • What‘s your favourite colour?
  • What do you want to do this evening?

II. Which + noun (things or people):

  • Which train did you catch – the 9.50 or the 10.30?
  • Which doctor did you see – Doctor Ellis, Doctor Gray or Doctor Hill?

We use which without a noun for things, not people:

  • Which is bigger – Canada or Australia?

We use who for people (without a noun):

  • Who is taller – Bill or Gerry? [not ‘Which is taller?’)

III. What or which?

We use which when we are thinking about a small number of possibilities (perhaps 2, 3 or 4):

  • We can go this way or that way. Which way shall we go?
  • There are four umbrellas here. Which is yours?

What is more general:

  • What is the capital of Argentina?
  • What sort of music do you like?


  • What colour are his eyes? (not ‘Which colour?’)
    Which colour
    do you prefer, pink or yellow?
  • What is the longest river in the world?
    is the longest river – the Mississippi, the Amazon or the Nile?

IV How … ?

  • ‘How was the party last night?’    ‘It was great.’
  • ‘How do you usually go to work?’    ‘By bus.’

You can use how + adjective/adverb (how tall / how old / how often etc.):

  • HOW tall are you?’   ‘I’m 1 metre 70.’
  • HOW big is the house?’   ‘Not very big.’
  • HOW old is your mother?’    ‘She’s 45.’
  • HOW far is it from here to the airport?’    ‘Five kilometres.’
  • HOW often do you use your car?’   ‘Every day.’
  • HOW long have they been married?’   ‘Ten years.’
  • HOW much was the meal?’    ‘Twenty pounds.’

Whoever, Whatever, Whichever, However, Whenever and wherever

  1. These words mean “it doesn’t matter who”, “it doesn’t matter what”. etc
  2. Whoever, Whatever, Whichever are also relative pronouns: they can be the subjects or objects of clause.
whoever etc +clause +clause
clause whoever etc +clause
  • Whoever telephones, tell them I’m out/ I’m not opening the door, whoever you are
  • Whatever you do, I’ll always love you/ Keep calm, whatever happens
  • “Which is my bed?” ” You can have whichever you like”
  • However much he eats, he never gets fat/ People always want more, however rich they are
  • Whenever I go to London I visit the Nation Gallery/ You can come whenever you like
  • Wherever you go, you’ll find Coca-Cola/ The people were friendly wherever we went

how and what…like?

1. We use how to ask about things that change – for example people’s mood and health.
We use what… like to ask about things that do not change – for example, people’s appearance and character. Compare:

  • How‘s Ron? He’s very well.
  • What‘s Ron like. He’s tall and dark, and a bit shy.
  • How does he look?. Surprised.
  • What does he look like. Nice

2. We often use how to ask about people’s reactions to their experiences

  • How was the film? Great.
  • How‘s your steak?
  • How‘s the new job?

3. Don’t confuse the preposition like (in What… like?) with the verb like.


  • What is she like? Lovely
  • What does she like? Dancing and fast cars

For, during and while

For and during

We use for + a period of time to say how long something goes on:

for two hours / for a week / for ages

  • We watched television for two hours last night.
  • Diane is going away for a week in September.
  • Where have you been? I’ve been waiting for ages.
  • Are you going away for the weekend?

We use during + noun to say when something happens (not how long):

during the film/ during our holiday/ during the night

  • I fell asleep during the film.
  • We met some really nice people during our holiday.
  • The ground is wet. It must have rained during the night.

With ‘time words’ (for example: the morning / the afternoon / the summer), you can usually say in or during:

  • It must have rained in the night, (or during the night)
  • I’ll phone you sometime during the afternoon, (or in the afternoon I

You cannot use during to say how long something goes on:

  • It rained for three days without stopping, (not during three days)

Compare during and for:

  • I fell asleep during the film.
    I was asleep for half an hour.

During and while

We use during + noun:

  • I fell asleep during the film.
  • We met a lot of interesting people

We use while + subject + verb:

  • I fell asleep while I was watching TV.
  • We met a lot of interesting people during our holiday, while we were on holiday.

Some more examples of while:

  • We saw Clare while we were waiting for the bus.
  • While you were out, there was a phone call for you.
  • Chris read a book while I watched television.

When you are talking about the future, use the present (not will) after while:

  • I’ll be in London next week. I hope to see Tom while I’m there.
    (not while I will be there)
  • What are you going to do while you are waiting? (not while you will be waiting)