Interrogative determiners: 'which' and 'what'

Level: intermediate

The interrogative determiners are which and what.

which is a specific determiner

Here are three books. Which book do you think is the most interesting?
They have four boys. Which boy is the oldest?
I can’t remember which house Janet lives in.
Which restaurant did you go to?

 

what is a general determiner

What food do you like?
I don’t know what job she does.

Interrogative determiners 1

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Interrogative determiners 2

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Submitted by Maahir on Wed, 11/08/2021 - 10:30

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Hi there, In exercise 1, there is a sentence saying.... Well, I love music from the sixties. I'm a big fan of the Beatles. A: Me too. ___ your favourite album? So my question is, Although it is specific when it comes to dates/time, can we also say it is a general and we can use both which/what as there can be unlimited Beatles Albums released in sixties? Hope you understood my question.

Hello Maahir,

Yes, I understand. There are many cases in an exercise where it's possible to use both 'which' and 'what' because the full context or speaker's intentions aren't completely clear, and this is a good example. When A asks the question here, they seem to be thinking of the Beatles albums that were released in the sixties. Since this is quite a specific set of albums which A seems to be familiar with, they say 'which'.

But it could also be that A is not so familiar with these albums and isn't thinking of them as a specific set of albums. And in that case, 'what' would also work here.

Since this question follows on from the previous one, we designated 'which' as the correct answer, but in a more general or other context, 'what' is also possible.

I hope that makes sense.

Best wishes,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Timmy Ferrer on Tue, 11/05/2021 - 02:19

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Hello! I'd like to ask about this example: Let's say I met this new teacher (a foreigner) who has just moved to our school and i want to know what/which country and school they came from. Which determiner is more appropriate? I often get confused on this one because I have this idea that we're familiar with the countries and schools where many foreign teachers in our area usually come from. Thanks in advance for the advice.

Hello Timmy Ferrer,

I think in this case you could use either and it really wouldn't make very much difference.  You'd certainly use which if the choice of country had been limited in some way (such as by someone identifying which continent the person is from), but even if there is no indication you could use which.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by IreneK on Tue, 25/08/2020 - 15:10

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Hi, I would be most grateful if someone could explain why there is no article in phrases such as e.g. the history of Italian Renaissance Sculpture (no article before Italian) or Masterpieces of Medieval Enamel. I intuitively understand that a) we are dealing with abstract entities - therefore no definite article, and b) we are not dealing with the whole bulk of objects existing in this category. I would be grateful, though, for the explanation from the native speaker. Many, many thanks

Hi IreneK,

As you say, these are abstract concepts rather than particular items, and so no article is used.

It's sometimes helpful to consider how the sentence would change if articles were used.

the history of an Italian Renaissance Sculpture - this would describe the history of one such sculpture which has not yet been identified to the listener/reader

the history of the Italian Renaissance Sculpture - this would describe the history of a particular sculpture which has been identified to the listener/reader

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by OlaIELTS on Mon, 15/06/2020 - 01:12

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It's really interesting.

Submitted by Diego Feital on Mon, 30/03/2020 - 19:30

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Hello. I think I couldn't understand properly the differences in the use of which and what. Thanks for helping me. Best regards.

Hello Diego Feital

We're happy to help you with specific questions. Could you please tell us a little more about what you don't understand?

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Akong on Sat, 15/09/2018 - 15:07

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Sir Is the use of one word as adjective and verb in the same sentence correct ? Example: Do you want to naked me? 2....I met Him

Submitted by Kirk on Sat, 15/09/2018 - 15:16

In reply to by Akong

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Hi Akong,

Off the top of my head, I can't think of any adjectives that can be used as a verb without some kind of change in form. Usually some kind of suffix or prefix is added, e.g. the adjective 'white' + '-en' = 'to whiten'.

'naked' can't be used as a verb in standard English so that sentence is not grammatical. In 2, 'met' is only a verb (the verb 'meet' in the past simple) and is not an adjective. I don't see how you could use it as an adjective, but if you have something specific in mind, please let us know.

By the way, could you please ask your questions on a relevant page? For example, since this one is about verbs and adjectives, it would make more sense somewhere in one of those sections instead of here. Thanks in advance for your cooperation with this.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Akong on Mon, 10/09/2018 - 15:08

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Sir. Somebody wrote and said There are about 50 different determiners in the English language they include: Articles - a, an, the. Demonstratives - this, that, these, those, which etc. Possessives - my, your, our, their, his, hers, whose, my friend's, our friends', etc. Quantifiers -few, a few, many, much, each, every, some, any etc. More items...which of them fits or means "Integrative" Is it DEMONSTRATIVE? following his arrangement since he wrote (which ) as one of his examples ? Thanks

Submitted by Peter M. on Tue, 11/09/2018 - 06:29

In reply to by Akong

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Hello Akong,

We're happy to comment on our own material and explanations but we can't explain to you what someone else was thinking when they wrote something. There are interrogative determiners (I think this is what you mean, rather than 'integrative') which are used before nouns to ask questions (e.g. Which book do you want?).

 

You can find a useful categorisation of determiners on the relevant wikipedia page:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Determiner

 

I think if you want an explanation of this person's categorisation then you should contact them. It would not be appropriate for us to speak for that person.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Akong on Mon, 10/09/2018 - 14:22

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Thanks sir. You have solved my problem

Submitted by jenneec on Tue, 16/01/2018 - 08:25

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Hi, Is whose an interrogative determiner?

Submitted by Peter M. on Wed, 17/01/2018 - 09:55

In reply to by jenneec

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Hello jenneec,

'Whose' can be a pronoun (when it is not followed by a noun) or a possessive determiner (when it is followed by a noun). It can be used to form a question but it can also be used in other ways.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, So it is a possessive interrogative determiner? Can it come under interrogative determiners ? Thankyou.

Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 18/01/2018 - 07:36

In reply to by jenneec

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Hi jenneec,

Yes, when it precedes a noun in a question it is a possessive interrogative determiner.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by gabriel001234 on Sun, 24/12/2017 - 16:32

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Should I say "what's your favourite day of the week" or "which is your favorite day of the week"? Many English guidelines say that we should use "which" when there's a limited set of choices. In this case, is it better to use "which" in that sentence?

Hello gabriel,

The important thing is not whether there is a limited set of choices so much as it is that a set of choices has already been discussed. In the case of the days of the week, if you'd already been discussing Friday and Wednesday, for example, then 'which' would be the best choice. But if you haven't mentioned specific ones yet, then 'what' would be the correct choice.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by drsachin on Wed, 20/12/2017 - 05:39

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Hi! In examples mentioned above under interrogative determiner, there is no mention about peoples or thing instead its a place in both the examples. In eg. a. Restaurant and b. Countries, South America. Which restaurant did you go to? Which countries in South America have you visited? so, can we use What instead of which? It sounds a general question to me. Mr. Kirk please solve my confusion. Thanks

Submitted by Kirk on Wed, 20/12/2017 - 08:21

In reply to by drsachin

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Hello again drsachin,

The questions themselves don't provide enough context for you to be able to decide accurately between 'what' or 'which'. Please see my response to Imjustaguy below, as well Peter's response to zagrus. Our two comments should help clarify this for you, I think, though please feel to ask us further questions if you have any.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Jezira on Wed, 15/11/2017 - 13:25

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If i asked question like this; who do you thinks you are? or whom do you thinks you are? which one is correct? thank Jezira

Hello Jezira,

In this case, 'who' is the correct form. Also, in general, 'whom' is quite rare in speaking -- most people use 'who' instead of 'whom'.

Please note that the verb is incorrect in your question; the correct form is: 'Who do you think you are?'

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by manukumar on Tue, 14/11/2017 - 11:37

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hello sir i don't speak English , how to try best way spoken English ?

Hello manukumar,

I would recommend you read the How to improve your speaking section on our Frequently asked questions page, where you will find advice on how to use our site for that purpose. Our Facebook page also has lots of useful ideas and links.

Good luck!

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by zagrus on Sat, 21/10/2017 - 15:55

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Hi, I hear lots of teachers asking students at school, " what grade are you?" Why do not we use " which" instead as there are limited number of grades, i.e. 1 - 12? Best wishes, Abdullah

Submitted by Peter M. on Sun, 22/10/2017 - 07:14

In reply to by zagrus

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Hi zagrus,

This is an interesting question. Partly it is certainly a case of convention but I think there may be something else here as well.

We generally use 'which' when the choice is limited, as you say. However, the options usually need to be before us. Thus, if the question were asked simply in conversation then we would say 'what' but if the question were asked with a list of possible grades in front of us then we might be more likely to say 'which'. Similar cases would be horoscopes, where we might ask 'which' if we were looking at a list of all twelve on a chart, or regions ('What part of London are you from?' vs 'Which part of London are you from?' if looking at a map of London). However, these are tendencies and conventions rather than firm grammatical rules, so should be treated as guides and rules of thumb.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Imjustaguy on Mon, 26/06/2017 - 05:01

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What's the difference between saying "WHICH restaurant did you go to" and "WHAT university did you go to" if there are a lot of universities and and lot of restaurants? Can't I use the same word, "what" or "which" for both? Thank you.

Hello Imjustaguy,

We use 'which' when we have a specific set or group in mind and 'what' when we don't have a specific set or group in mind. This means that you could use 'what restaurant' or 'what university' in a context when you did not have a specific group in mind, and 'which restaurant' and 'which university' when you do.

For example, in Boston in the USA, there are several famous universities (Harvard, MIT and others). If you're speaking with someone about their university studies in Boston but she hasn't mentioned where she studied, 'which' would be the form you should use to ask the question ('Which university did you go to?'). You could say 'what', but it would sound strange because there is a specific set of universities that has been mentioned.

On the other hand, imagine you've just met someone who is the first person to go to university in her family, but you have no idea where and there is no other specific set of universities that has been mentioned. In this case, 'what' would be the form you should use.

I hope that helps clarify the matter for you.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Basem M A A on Tue, 20/06/2017 - 05:48

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Hello Peter, Could you please check if my understanding is correct: What films do you like? Which film did you watch? Thank you very much Basem

Hello Basem,

Those sentences are correct. However, you could also say 'Which films do you like?' if you were standing in front, for example, of a collection of films, and you could say 'What films did you watch?' if you were asking in general without any set of films in mind. The key is whether you are asking 'out of these possible films' (which) or 'out of all films without limit' (what).

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by MAMAD on Sat, 20/05/2017 - 17:29

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Why used what instead of which (university did you go to?)

Hello MAMAD,

The answer to this is on the page above:

We use "which" as a determiner to ask a question about a specific group of people or things

When we are asking a general question we use "what" as a determiner

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by teacherwithqs on Fri, 14/04/2017 - 03:06

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Hi, I understand that what is general and which is a limited group or more specific. My question is why as a native speaker is "What's your blood type" more natural sounding that "Which is your blood type?" I know that I can say "Which blood type do you have?" I'm just having trouble explaining why "which is your blood type?" sounds wrong. Thanks

Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 14/04/2017 - 07:33

In reply to by teacherwithqs

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Hi teacherwithqs,

We generally use 'which' when there is a limited set of options and they are presented before us. Thus, if you were simply asking a person about their blood type then you would say 'What...?' However, if you had, say, a chart in front of you with the various blood types on it then you would tend to say 'Which...?'

One way to think of this is that 'Which...?' really means 'Which of these...?'

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Nizam Balinese on Fri, 10/03/2017 - 16:27

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Hi Team. Help me with this, please.. Which ones of these interrogative sentences is correct? 1. Why isn't there "to" after verb "want" in the sentence? 2. Why after verb "want" there's no "to" in the sentence? Would you like to explain, please? Thank you.

Submitted by Kirk on Sat, 11/03/2017 - 14:22

In reply to by Nizam Balinese

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Hello Nizam,

1 is almost correct -- instead I'd say 'Why isn't there a 'to' after the verb 'want' in the sentence?'. 2 is almost correct, also -- instead I'd recommend 'Why is there no 'to' after the verb 'want' in the sentence?'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Mr Kirk, Why in your first sentence you used the article 'a' before 'to' and why not in your second sentence. All the best

Hello knownman,

In the second sentence, the word 'to' already has a quantifier: 'no'. 'no' takes the place of the determiner 'a'; it's not correct to use both of them together.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by naghmairam on Thu, 02/02/2017 - 05:16

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Hi, If we are asking for the definition of a term, what should we use----what or who? For example, which of the following sentences is right? What is a zookeeper? Who is a zookeeper? Thanks

Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 02/02/2017 - 07:44

In reply to by naghmairam

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Hi naghmairam,

To ask for a definition you should use 'what'. If you ask 'who' then you will be told the name of the person who has this job.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Gobin Sonowal on Sat, 03/09/2016 - 06:54

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Dear Sir, Which one is correct. 1. Sara can play _a_ guitar. Or Sara can play _the_ guitar.

Submitted by Kirk on Sat, 03/09/2016 - 07:37

In reply to by Gobin Sonowal

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Hello Gobin Sonowal,

Both 'a' and 'the' are possible here - which one is correct depends on the context. Please see our English Grammar section on Articles and our Quick Grammar page on Articles for explanations of the differences between them.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by dentist iraq on Wed, 06/04/2016 - 07:22

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hello sir the statement : what films do you like? it can't be understood that its also a question about (type) of films you prefer ? thank you

Submitted by Peter M. on Wed, 06/04/2016 - 07:32

In reply to by dentist iraq

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Hello dentist iraq,

You are correct: this can be a question about specific films of kinds of film, depending on the context. A more likely question would be 'What kind(s) of films do you like?' if the context did not make it clear that we were talking about types.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Xiryrgus on Tue, 15/03/2016 - 09:15

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Hello. Who can explaine me, what differeсе between "Which restaurant did you go to?" and "What university did you go to?" Why in first example "Wich" and "what" in second? Fore several reasons I think there are two spesific groups, aren`n they?