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 muntaziri on Mon, 16/06/2014 - 10:56

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can we use "which is too far from me" , and why we are using which there?

Hello muntaziri,

That is a possible phrasing, yes, but it is hard to say more than that without seeing it in context.  Perhaps you could post the sentence in its full context (the whole sentence, and any other sentence which came before it in the text or dialogue in which is appears), and then we will be able to comment more fully.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by tenchi91 (not verified) on Tue, 15/04/2014 - 15:37

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Hi I was wondering what do you call "general question"? Please I can't see the differences.

Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 17/04/2014 - 10:32

In reply to by tenchi91 (not verified)

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Hi tenchi91,

A general question is one which is not about a limited set.  For example, if I ask 'What is your favourite film?' then I am asking a general question and you can choose any film at all.  If I ask 'Which is your favourite film?' then I am asking about a certain group of films - for example the films which are on at the cinema at the moment, or the films I can see in a shop.  The context should make it clear which group you are referring to.

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Bo Bo Naing Win on Fri, 14/03/2014 - 14:31

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May I know past perfect tense please? How can i use it? thank you.!!!

Hello Bo Bo Naing Win,

You can find a page with information on the past perfect and an exercise to practise it here.

I also like to ask you to please post your comments on related pages.  This page is about interrogative determiners, not verb forms, so your question does not match the topic.  It's useful for everyone to be able to see questions and answers  which are relevant to whatever they are learning, so please try to find a relevant page to post each question on.

Thank you and best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by monaluki on Mon, 03/02/2014 - 20:12

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Hi, Please help at what situation can which and what used in middle of sentence?

Submitted by Kirk on Tue, 04/02/2014 - 13:32

In reply to by monaluki

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Hi monaluki,

I suppose that you are asking about relative pronouns. Please take a look at our relative pronouns page, and then if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask us there.

Best wishes,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Theresa Andrew on Sat, 21/12/2013 - 12:23

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Hi,

I would like to know which determiner I should use when in the below situation.

1. in a bookshop or in a cinema

    Which is your favourite book? or What is your favourite book?

   To my knowledge, when we're in bookshop, there're numerous books thus the options are many and we can use determiner 'what'. Also I'd like to know whether there's a specific number associated as a condition to use 'Which'. For an example, if I can see lesser than 4 items, I can use 'which' or anything as such. Can you explain this?

Theresa

Submitted by Peter M. on Sun, 22/12/2013 - 11:44

In reply to by Theresa Andrew

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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

Submitted by Seng Poline on Tue, 29/10/2013 - 07:00

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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

Submitted by elie12 on Sat, 26/10/2013 - 16:46

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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

Submitted by Gaurav Madaan on Mon, 14/10/2013 - 10:52

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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

Submitted by Joy L on Sun, 08/09/2013 - 05:01

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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

Submitted by yasmeen 100 on Mon, 26/08/2013 - 05:05

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Submitted by sathyasa on Sat, 17/08/2013 - 16:06

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Hello there

Can we use 'were not, are not........etc' at the beginning of a negative interrogative sentence without shortening them? Please show examples for correct forms and incorrect forms? 

Thanks for your early reply.

Best Regards

Hello sathyasa,

We can certainly use the full (not contracted) forms at the beginning of questions:

Are we not able to decide for ourselves?

Were they not so young, I might get really angry with them.

However, this is a very formal, literary or declamatory style and it is not common in everyday speech.  If you were making a formal speech in Parliament or in court, for example, then you might use these forms, but in normal conversation they would sound very strange.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by nehaG on Wed, 31/07/2013 - 15:30

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 hey , how tell any body i am not that person about whom your talking or you want to meet

Hello nethaG,

There are many ways to say this and which you will use depends on the situation and whether or not you can be direct, or should be polite or formal.

Some polite ways to say this would be:

'I'm sorry, I think you're thinking of somebody else.'

'I think you've got me confused with somebody else.'

'I'm sorry but I think you're looking for somebody else.'

I hope that helps you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Almaz Kalabaev on Sat, 13/07/2013 - 12:53

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Hello My name is Almaz. I read it but I did not understand. Could you give me lots of examples to understand? 

Hi Almaz,

The difference between the determiners which and what depends on the perspective of the person speaking or writing. I'll explain the difference in a slightly different way and give you a few more examples.

In general, which is used to refer to a limited or specific number of options. For example,

  • Which size would you like: small, medium or large? (when ordering an ice cream)
  • Which player is your favourite? (speaking about a football team)
  • Which of those girls is your sister? (you can see a group of 4 girls)
  • Which way shall we go? (right or left)

Each of these questions is about a specific context in which there are a limited number of options.

When a more general or more open question is being asked, and especially if there is little context, what is used more often. For example,

  • What language is spoken in Kathmandu? 
  • What kind of music do you like to listen to while studying?
  • What country do you come from?
  • What colour is your car?

I hope that this helps. If it's still not clear, please don't hesitate to ask another question - and thanks for visiting LearnEnglish!

Best wishes,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by kokoyiwen on Thu, 07/03/2013 - 06:54

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thanks for your reply from Learn English team. I learn more about which and what.

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Submitted by manyahi on Thu, 27/12/2012 - 19:20

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Hello Learn English team!

I have read through the examples given on interrogative determiners, but i can't differentiate using what and which. For example i can't see the differences if i ask which university did you go? and what university did you go?

Thanks & regards.

Manyahi

Hello manyahi!

 

Often there isn't any important difference betwen the two! In the example you give, both which and what are OK. If it is a very big group you are talking about (like food, for example - think how many different kinds of food there are in the world!), you should use what, but other than that, which and what are both OK for general questions.

 

Hope that helps!

 

Jeremy Bee

The LearnEnglish Team

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Hello Sary,

Welcome to LearnEnglish, but please remember that the House Rules say that you can't share your personal information on this website. That includes Skype account details!

Best wishes,

Adam

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Kikysh,

 

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