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=

 

Take your language skills and your career to the next level
Get unlimited access to our self-study courses for only £5.99/month.

Hello Xiryrgus,

I explained this a bit more in my response to andrew international below. Please take a look at that and then if you still have a question after that, don't hesitate to ask.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by bern91 on Fri, 26/02/2016 - 06:04

Permalink
Hello, I was just wondering which of the following sentences would be considered as an interrogative determiner? a) What is your biggest strength? b) What difference would it have made? c) How can you know what I've been through? d) Did he say what he wanted? I know that for interrogative determiners, the what usually precedes the noun. I am stuck between a) and b) because the sentence in a) can be switched to "What strength is your biggest?" and the what would then precede the noun. Thank you

Submitted by Kirk on Fri, 26/02/2016 - 07:25

In reply to by bern91

Permalink

Hello bern91,

Sentence b) has an interrogative determiner: 'what'. a) and c) have interrogative pronouns and d) has no interrogative word.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Andrew international on Mon, 08/02/2016 - 16:40

Permalink
Dear Sir Which school did you go to? What school did you go to? According to your lesson second one is correct not the first. I am I right but not the first. Would you please explain a bit more about this Thank you.

Submitted by Kirk on Mon, 08/02/2016 - 18:43

In reply to by Andrew international

Permalink

Dear andrew,

'which' is used when you have a limited number of options in mind. These options are clear from the context. 'what' is used when you don't have any options in mind. For example, imagine we'd just begun talking about university education; I would ask 'What university did you go to?' if we hadn't yet discussed any specific universities. On the other hand, if you told me that you had studied in Boston, I would probably ask 'Which university did you go to?' since there are a limited number of universities in Boston. As you can see, the context is key.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Diana Forero on Mon, 21/12/2015 - 23:12

Permalink
Hello everyone I got confused with one of the examples. I don't understand clearly why it's not correcto to use "which" to ask about the university they went. It's not similar to ask about the restaurant? Thanks in advanced for your help

Hello Diana,

Actually, you could use 'which' as well to ask about the university if there was a group of universities you'd been speaking about. For example, if I just met you, I would probably use 'what' to ask this question, as there would be no context. If, however, we met and then I asked you how many universities there were in your city and what their names were, 'which' would make more sense in the same question.

The same would be true of restaurants or anything else. It's not indicated, but the sentence above with 'which restaurant' supposes that the context was speaking about restaurants.

If you have any more questions about this, please let us know.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Mohsin Abbas on Sun, 06/12/2015 - 17:13

Permalink
This is correct sentence about "which" as given below: 1.This is plus point for the children which they can fulfil their needs.

Hello Mohsin Abbas,

No, that sentence is not correct. Without knowing the exact context it is hard for me to be sure what the correct sentence should be, but I would guess one of these is what you need:

This is a plus point for the children, who can fulfil their needs.

This is a plus point for the children, which enables them to fulfil their needs.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Kurin on Wed, 02/12/2015 - 04:22

Permalink
Hello teachers! Should I use "how" or "what" in this sentence: "She never tells us _______ she feels." I feel it should be "how" more than "what" but the more I think about it, the less sure I am. Is it idiomatic? Or does it depend on the verb? 1. She never tells us how she feels. 2. She never tells us what she thinks.

Hello Kurin,

Both 'how' and 'what' are possible here. It does depend somewhat on the verb. When we use 'feel' we can can say 'how' or 'what', but when we use 'think' we can only use 'what'.

This is not a question of idiomatic meaning but rather collocation - which words go with other words in common use. Just as we usually say 'heavy rain' rather than 'strong rain' but 'strong wind' rather than 'heavy wind', so we use 'how' and 'what' as described above.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Collocation - that's the word! Okay, thank you!

Submitted by Marcos Loureiro on Thu, 05/11/2015 - 13:57

Permalink
I´m very happy with this kind of study! Congratulations to all team of the Learnenglish British Council!

Submitted by Imran 26 on Wed, 07/10/2015 - 10:17

Permalink
Thank you so much sir, you solved my confusion, and thank's for co-operation.

Submitted by Imran 26 on Tue, 06/10/2015 - 11:54

Permalink
sir, Whats the difference between word especially and specially? can you tell me the appropriate use of it.

Submitted by Kirk on Tue, 06/10/2015 - 12:25

In reply to by Imran 26

Permalink

Hello Imran,

I'd recommend you two resources: one is the dictionary (see the search box under Cambridge Dictionaries Online on the lower right side of this page), where you can see definitions and examples of both words. Another good resource is this archived page on the BBC's Learning English site.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by nness on Fri, 21/08/2015 - 09:14

Permalink
when we use 'what' as a determiner: ''What university did you go to?'' isn't it a specific question like 'Which countries in South America have you visited?' because you are asking a specific university that he/she already went like specific countries that he/she already visited in South America. I think ''what'' is a determiner in a specific question; not in a general question. Could you please explain if I am wrong? Thanks in advance.

Hello nness,

'What' has a more general meaning - allowing a wider range of answers to be chosen - whereas 'which' suggests a more limited set.

If we are asking about a limited range then we are more likely to use 'which'. For example, if we are choosing from a cinema's listing then we would be more likely to say 'Which film do you want to see?' than 'What film...?' However, it is not a fixed grammatical rule but rather a tendency, so it is rare that either is wrong, rather that one is better or more common in certain situations.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by zeeshan-hussain on Thu, 13/08/2015 - 17:14

Permalink
Hi, I was corrected when I used a sentece "the NGOs those claim to preserve.....", wsa corrected to "the NGOs which claim to preserve....". I refered to a grammar book but I am confused what to use and why. I will appreciate if you can assist.

Hello zeeshan-hussain,

It's hard for me to comment without seeing the whole sentence, as both 'those' and 'which' are possible, depending on how the sentence ends. If it was a relative clause then 'which' is necessary and 'those' is not possible as 'those' is not a relative pronoun.

You can learn more about relative clauses here.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello again Peter, I read the link you sent. I am baffled after reading these below: "We use who and whom for people, and which for things." Now the example below given is The newspaper reported that the tiger which killed its keeper has been put down. I suppose that TIGER is the subject, because if we remove tiger from the sentence, it is meaningless. Please assist. Thank you in advance.

Hello zeechan-hussain,

The relative clause in that sentence is 'which killed its keeper' and the subject is the relative pronoun 'which'. The relative clause describes 'tiger', which is the subject of the passive verb form 'has been put down'.

I hope that helps to clarify it for you. It is a difficult example because the relative clause is in the middle of the sentence, there is a confusing 'that' which is not a relative pronoun but rather part of a reporting verb phrase and the verb in the sentence is a passive form.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by IBEH FELIX on Sat, 08/08/2015 - 17:03

Permalink
Which is corect? Which course are offering? or What course are you offering? Thanks for you help.

Hello IBEH FELIX,

The second sentence is correct (with 'you').

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

At EBEH FELIX You can only use "which" when you have a list choice known to your listener, else you make use of "what" since it will be a general question out of all causes which may not even be known to your listener.

Submitted by ash_grooovy on Fri, 24/07/2015 - 07:24

Permalink
Hello, If i want to ask someone about the brand of the watch the person is wearing, then which of the following would be more appropriate : That's a nice watch, what brand is it ? or That's a nice watch, which brand is it ? Thanks.

Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 24/07/2015 - 10:15

In reply to by ash_grooovy

Permalink

Hello ash_grooovy,

Both are grammatically correct. The difference is that 'what' here is open and we would use it when we are asking about any brand. We would use 'which' when we are asking about a limited number of options (brand x or brand y).

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Bassam zarad on Sat, 04/07/2015 - 16:35

Permalink
What's the difference between these? Which restaurant did you go to? What university did you go to? both are specific

Hello 

As we say on the page, 'which' is usually specific: it asks for a choice from a known group. 'What' is usually more general: it asks for a choice without restrictions. For example:

Which is your favourite film? [showing three or four to choose from]

What is your favourite film? [you can choose any film]

If the speaker says 'Which restaurant...?' then I would understand that we are choosing from a restricted group: the ones on a particular street, or the ones we were talking about before, for example.

If the speaker says 'What university...?' then I would assume the speaker has no idea which universities were possible, likely or accessible, and is asking generally.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Bassnanga on Fri, 15/05/2015 - 02:45

Permalink
What about if i live in England and what will the question if somebody wants to know my city. Will the question be: what city or which city? Thanks in advance

Hello Bassnanga,

That really depends on how the person asking the questions perceives the situation. If you've just talked about different cities, for example, 'which' (as the explanation above indicates) would be used since the topic of cities has already been mentioned. If, on the other hand, the topic of where you live hasn't been mentioned, 'what' would be used.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by abbas mousavi on Tue, 12/05/2015 - 14:33

Permalink
hi i have a question that we can have full file as grammar to print it and use it when we haven't PC . if is possible how and where can i have it . thanks for your attention

Hello abbas,

I'm afraid that our Grammar Reference is not available in a printable format, but if you have a smartphone or tablet, there are several free apps designed for improving your grammar knowledge. For example, there's our LearnEnglish Grammar app - but be sure to look on our Apps page for a complete listing. 

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by K Balamurugan on Fri, 08/05/2015 - 11:35

Permalink
Sir, i can read & understand meaning of a particular sentence, but i can't write the same sentence individually. what i do make a sentence correct ?

Hello K Balamurugan,

I'm afraid I'm not sure I understand what you mean. Perhaps it would help for you to break the sentences into meaningful chunks - this could help you understand how the pieces fit together.

For example, the sentence 'We have taken 70 wickets in seven matches and bowled out the opposition every time, so we know what we need to do. We are ready for anything we get' (from the BBC) can be broken into parts in different ways, but here's one: 'We have taken' (subject and verb), '70 wickets' (object of verb), 'in seven matches' (time expression), 'and bowled out the opposition' (second verb and object), 'every time' (time expression), 'so' (connecting conjunction), 'we know' (subject and verb), 'what we need to do' (relative pronoun + subject and verb + infinitive). 

I hope this gives you some ideas.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by mesuuakan on Wed, 24/09/2014 - 13:22

Permalink
Hi there. I wanna speak enlish. please help me :)

Hi mesuuakan,

We are often asked how a person can improve speaking, but it's hard to give specific advice without knowing how they speak at the moment. However, there are some general suggestions that I can make which will help you to improve over time. The most important thing you can do is to speak English as often as possible. To do this a partner is very helpful, so think about the people you know and consider if any of them could be a practice partner for you. It may be that you know someone else who is also learning English and who would like to practise with you, or perhaps you know some people who do not speak your language but do speak English. However, if you do not have a practice partner it does not mean that you cannot practise because it is possible to practise alone. Just speaking English to yourself while you are at home, going about your normal daily activities, can help a great deal with your fluency and can help you to feel more confident, which will help you to cut down your hesitating.

You can also use the audio and video materials here on LearnEnglish to improve your fluency. After doing the exercises, try listening with the transcript (listening and reading). Then try saying the text yourself, and finally try saying it with (and at the same speed as) the recording. This will help you to develop speed in your speech, which is a key component of fluency. You'll also pick up a lot of language as chunks - words which are often used together in set phrases - which you can use to communicate with less hesitation.

I hope those suggestions are helpful.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by hafid oran on Fri, 29/08/2014 - 21:14

Permalink
can you say 'which university did you go to ?' just like ' which restaurant did you go to ?'
Hello, You can, it depends on whether you see the choice of Universities as being about a specific group of things or a general choice. Best wishes, Adam The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by anum06 on Tue, 17/06/2014 - 20:46

Permalink
isn't the quetsion what university did u go ?" is specific or we should rather use :"what universities did u go "

Hello anum06,

If you use the plural 'universities' in the question then you are suggesting that the person studied at more than one university.  That may be true, especially if the person has multiple qualifications, but usually we wouldn't assume this and so would use the singular 'university'.  The question also needs the preposition 'to' at the end:

'What university did you go to?'

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Peter, As you said "The question also needs the preposition 'to' at the end:'What university did you go to?'", I am wondering when I should add the preposition and when I needn't. Here are some examples that I found online. Some of them are added with a preposition and some of them are not. "This is where our basic interest lies.“ ”That’s where their unhappiness springs from.“ Could you please explain when the preposition is needed or when it is not needed? Thank you very much!

Hi platformreg,

I'm afraid there's no general rule for this - different verbs go with different prepositions depending on their use in different contexts. A good dictionary, such as ours (see the search box on the right) can help you with this - be sure to look for the appropriate meaning in the dictionary entry and then observe how the verb is used in the example sentences. For example, if you look up 'spring' and choose the fifth entry (appear suddenly), you'll see that the example there also uses 'from'.

With 'go', 'to' is always used before the destination, e.g. 'go to the office', 'go to school', 'go to Chiangmai'. If 'go' is used in with a different meaning, then a different preposition could be appropriate, e.g. 'go with my friend to the cinema'.

I hope this helps you.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

or to whom university did you go ? but not in spoken English.

Hello Elmar,

That is not a correct sentence whether in spoken or written English. You could say 'To which...', however.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team