Pronouns in questions

Level: beginner

We use who to ask questions about people:

Who is that?
Who lives here?
Who did you see?

We use whose to ask about possession:

Whose coat is this? or Whose is this coat?
Whose book is that?   or Whose is that book?
Whose bags are those? or

Whose are those bags?

We use what to ask questions about things:

What is that?
What do you want?

We use which to ask someone to choose something:

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
I've got two books. Which do you want?

We can also use what and which with nouns:

What subjects did you study at school?
What newspaper do you read?
Which newspaper do you read –
The Times or The Guardian?
Which book do you want?
Which one is yours?

Pronouns in questions 1

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We often have a preposition at the end of a question:

Who does this book belong to?
What are you looking for?
Which university did you go to?

Pronouns in questions 2

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Pronouns in questions 3

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Hi Teachers, May I know what is the difference between reported questions and indirect questions? Is it a case where reported questions usually involve a backshift in tense when derived from a direct question, while in an indirect question, one need not change the tense, espicially of an indirect question embeded in a declarative sentence? Regards, Tim

Hi Tim,

A reported question references the question directly using a verb such as 'asked':

He asked me what time it was.

We use reported questions to talk about questions which have already been asked.

 

An indirect question is one in which the question is being asked but in a polite and tentative manner. Indirect questions often take the form of questions about questions:

Would you mind telling me what time it is?

Can you tell me what time it is?

Do you know what the time is?

There is no tense shift here because the question has not yet been asked.

Grammatically the two are similar in that question word order is not needed.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Firas961,

Yes, those questions are perfectly fine.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

refer to above example, which states: - What subjects did you study at school? Can we write it as: - What are subjects did you study at school?

Hello Amin Maryoud,

I'm afraid the sentence you wrote is not grammatical. You could say, however, 'What are the subjects you studied at school?' But most of the time we'd probably just use the example sentence above on this page.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Elmar,

Yes, both 'what' and 'which' are correct, though please note that both questions need the preposition 'in' at the end of them (e.g. 'What country do you live in?').

We use 'what' when we're talking in general and 'which' when we have a specific group of countries in mind. You can read more about this on this page. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask us.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Sir, I have a question: in the clause I have got two books. Which do you want?, the correct question wasn't: Which one do you want?

Hello Shark,

Both 'Which do you want?' and 'Which one do you want?' are correct here. You can use either sentence.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

If the answer is "The ducks were swimming in the pond," what would the question be? 1. Who were swimming in the pond? 2. What were swimming in the pond? Kindly provide the usage as well. Thank you.

Hello Dr. Mustafa Siddiqui,

In general, we treat animals as objects rather than people, grammatically speaking, and so would not tend to use 'who' here. The exception would be animals with which we feel a particular affinity, such as pets, which we tend to speak of as people, using 'who', 'he', 'she' and so on.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

"who does she remind you of?" I don't understand this sentece. what does it mean?

Hello volkan gürler,

This question is asking the person what her appearance, character or behaviour is similar to. For example, I might say this:

My friend Bob reminds me of Mike Tyson because he has a very similar tattoo.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello... Just discovered this site and now have it bookmarked. I've drawn an absolute blank trying to think of a way to reword "attaching links about the childhood friend you remind me so much of" without sounding stuffy. Is it ever okay to use "of" at the end of a sentence? Thank you.

Hello LoreBeth,

That sentence is perfectly fine. The rule that a sentence should not end with a preposition was never germane to English but rather was an imposition by grammarians and writers who wished to make English as similar to Latin as possible.

You can find a discussion of the topic here.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, what is the diffrence between those two senteces "What newspaper do you read?" and "Which newspaper do you read". or those two sample is the same meaning?

Hello volkan gürler,

In many contexts you can use either 'what' or 'which' in these questions, though there is a slight difference. We use 'what' in general questions where you can choose anything as your answer. We use 'which' when the question is about a smaller group. For example, if I wanted to know your favourite film then I would ask What is your favourite film? However, if we were standing in front of a collection of films on DVD and I wanted you to choose one of these then I would ask Which is your favourite (film)?

In other words when we use which we are really asking which of these. When we use what we are asking in general terms.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks for the explanation? I'm a native English speaker and I think "What month were you born in?" sounds natural, but I was told it should be "In what month were you born in?" Am I wrong? Or are both ok?

Hello Meg,

Traditional grammars state that sentences should not end in a preposition (e.g. 'in'), but if you analyse the way people speak most of the time, and even how they write, it's quite obvious that this rule is often not followed. Putting a preposition at the end of a sentence does generally make for a more informal sentence than putting it inside the sentence. There's an explanation of this in the Cambridge Dictionary that I'd encourage you to take a look at – please note that you have to scroll quite a ways down the page to the 'Prepositions: position and standing' section to see it.

I hope that helps you get a handle on the issue.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi taj25,

We don't tend to have pages on the use of individual words. 'How' is a question word like any other and is used in the same way. It can be used with an adjective to ask about degree ('How long...', 'How far...', 'How much...' etc).

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, Can we say" What climate does Spain have?", "What kind of climate does Spain have?", or"What is the climate of Spain?". In general, can we use what with everything we ask about? such as: what climate?, what colour?, what temperature?...... Many Thanks

Hello The sky view,

The second one sounds the most natural to me, but all three ways are correct. To be honest, I'm not sure why I prefer that form - perhaps because we normally talk about climates with an adjective plus the word 'climate', e.g. 'a Mediterranean climate' (though beware, Spain has several climates depending on where you are).

Yes, you can say 'what climate', 'what colour', 'what temperature', etc.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello telll,

Both are possible. The first question we would ask when we are in the middle of the day - it has not finished. We would ask the second question later on, perhaps in the evening, when the day is all but finished, or when the main part of the day (for example, your time at work) is over.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi there, Which one is correct, 'Who does this book belong to?' or 'Whom does this book belong to?', or both OK? Thanks & BR, Songsong

Hello imsongsong,

In modern English the standard form is 'Who does this book belong to?'

It is also possible to hear 'To whom does this book belong', but this sounds very (overly) formal and old-fashioned to the modern ear.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello faisal0901,

'Whom' is the object form of 'who' and it can be used when the pronoun is an object. Generally, we can also use 'who' in such sentences:

Who are you?

Whom are you? - this is wrong because the pronoun is the subject, not the object

You gave it to who?

You gave it to whom? - this is correct because the pronoun is the object.

You can find more information on this topic here.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello faisal0901,

'Whom' is the object form of 'who' and it can be used when the pronoun is an object. Generally, we can also use 'who' in such sentences:

Who are you?

Whom are you? - this is wrong because the pronoun is the subject, not the object

You gave it to who?

You gave it to whom?

Dears all, I would like really to thank you about your effective replays. I just have a question in this sentence: (What subjects did you study at school?), is it correct to say (Which subjects did you study at school?), i mean is there any differences in the meaning between the first and the second one ? Kindly regards.

Hello AnTeMoOo,

You can say both 'what' or 'which' and there's not a big difference in meaning. 'which' is used when there is a limited number of options that have already been discussed, and 'what' is used in other cases, i.e. when the options haven't been discussed. For example, if you and I had been talking about the subjects at school and had mentioned several specific ones, I'd probably use 'which' to ask you the question. On the other hand, if we'd been talking about a different topic and I wanted to ask you the question, I'd probably use 'what'. But both really mean the same thing otherwise.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Sir; I don't understand the meaning of this sentence : Who does she remind you of ? Best Regards.

Hello medmomo,

If you look at the definitions and example sentences for 'remind somebody of something' in the dictionary, I think it will be clear for you. If not, though, please don't hesitate to ask us again.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello PaolaPao,

I'm afraid that is not a correct sentence. I'm not sure what you are trying to say, to be honest. Are you talking about a play in the theatre, or a game or sport?

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Peter! I don' t have clear the rule question with preposition :(. In this example: What are you looking for? why not What are looking at? when I have to use for or at or about? :/

Hello PaolaPao,

Both 'look for' and 'look at' are correct, but they mean different things! If you look up 'look' in the dictionary – you can use the search box on the right side of this page or follow the link on the word – you can see definitions and example sentences. It's also possible to use other prepositions with 'look' – you'll see those in the dictionary entry as well.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, This is my first reply,so first I want to thank all the people who work on this great site. Then, I want to introduce myself: I am Ahmad Yaghi, English teacher, from Palestine, more than20 years experience of teaching. with my regards As for the answer on your question: your structure of making the question is right, but you don't need to use " to " with the word " prefer" , so the question will be like this: == Which play do you prefer? with my best wishes

Hello Afia shakir khan,

That's fine. It sounds a little bit odd to me, as it suggests that some people might need more time to cook pasta than others, but it's grammatically correct. I'd probably ask 'How long does it take to cook pasta?' instead.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

yee i got 44 out of 44. I am in love with this site. this is really helpfull. :) I hope i will be able to speak english soon.
I’ve got two books. Which do you want? isn't it wrong? which one do you want should be used, in my opinion.
hello learnenglish.britishcouncil.org staff, Thank you for your pretty and useful job that you are doing here You said: What subjects did you study at school? can we say: which subjects did you study at school? are these two sentences the same ? ------------------------------------------------------ Who does this book belong to? is like when we use "whose"? which university did you go to ? is it like when we use "what" ? what country do you come from? is it like when when use "where"?
-"What subjects did you study at school?" is generally used because there are a lot of subjects we study at school. But we can also use which if there are a limited number of subjects we have to study. Let's say the school offers a group of 10 subjects for a course but you only need to study 5 subjects to finish the course. In that case, we can use "which". It depends on the context to decide which one to use "what" or "which". - "whose" is used to ask which person a particular thing belongs to. "Whose book is it?" - We use "which" in this case because there are a limited number of universities in a location (city, town,.....) and in generally, we study at one university. -" what country" is used in this case because the speaker knows that you are from another country and they want to know the name of your country. Of course we can use "where" here but it sounds less formal.
hello learnenglish.britishcouncil.org staff, Thank you for your pretty and useful job that you are doing here Who lives here? don't we need auxiliary verb here ?