You are here

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

MultipleChoice_MTU5NTY=

Interrogative determiners 2

GapFillTyping_MTU4MDI=

 

Comments

Hello Theresa,

Both of these questions are grammatically possible, but there is a difference in meaning.  

You are correct that 'which' suggests a more limited set of options, but it is not dependent on the number, but rather whether or not the choice is in some way limited.  For example, if you are standing in a bookshop and ask 'Which is your favourite book?' then the other person is likely to assume that you mean 'from the books here in the shop', while if you ask 'What is your favourite book?' then they are likely to assume that you are asking in more general terms - about any book.

The distinction is not fixed, however, and is dependent on context and (understood/stated/apparent) intention.  For example, if the questioner indicated with their hand a shelf full of books and asked 'What's your favourite book?' then it would be clear that they mean 'from this shelf'.

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Peter,
I'm able to distinguish better the usage of the determiners now. Thanks for your explanation.
Theresa

I wonder we use (which)two people and things its for alot of
And (what) we use for 1 person and 1 thing? Thank

Hi Seng Poline,

Do you mean that "which" is used to refer to plural persons or objects and "what" is used to refer to singular persons or objects? That is not true.

The truth is that there are many cases when "which" and "what" are both used, because they depend on how the speaker views a situation. But in general the difference between using one or the other is whether we think there are many possible choices (what) or a limited number of choices (which).

For example, we say "What is your name?" because there are many possible names a person could have. On the other hand, if I met you at the train station in my town, I'd ask "Which train did you come on?" because there are only two trains that pass through my town.

Best wishes,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

I think we can use both which and what for the same sentence.. I did not see big difference...please advise..

Hello elle12,

The difference is explained on this page! 'Which' is more specific (we are choosing from a limited group), whereas 'what' is used for more general questions (you can choose any as your answer). So, to use an example from the page:

'Which film do you like best?' is a question I would usually ask if there is a limited number of films to choose. For example, perhaps we are in a video shop and we want to borrow a film; I am asking the person to choose a fillm out of those in the shop.

'What film do you like best?' is a question I would usually ask if I wanted to know the person's favourite film out of all the films they have ever seen. In other words, this is a more general question which is not about a specific group of films.

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sir or Madam
In this page What films do you like ?
What University did you go to ?
Are these two questions correct or not ?

Dear Gaurav Madaam,

Both of those questions are correct. They are more general questions than the equivalents with 'which', just as the information above says.

Best wishes,

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi,
Could you please tell me whether the question below is correct or wrong? Should the 'it' be replaced with 'them'? Or 'it' is acceptable?
Question:
Do the arts merit the vast sums of money spent on it?
Thank you.
 

Hi Joy L,
'The arts' can be both singular or plural, so both 'it' and 'they' are possible.  However, you should not mix singular and plural forms in the same sentence!  Either use a singular form or a plural form:
'Do the arts merit the vast sums of money spent on them?'
or
'Does the arts merit the vast sums of money spent on it?'
Best wishes,
 
Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Pages