Wh-questions begin with what, when, where, who, whom, which, whose, why and how. We use them to ask for information.
The answer cannot be yes or no:
A: When do you finish college?
B: Next year.
A: Who is your favourite actor?
B: Bruce Willis for sure!
With an auxiliary verb
We usually form wh-questions with:
wh- + an auxiliary verb (be, do or have) + subject + main verb
wh- + a modal verb + subject + main verb:
|Be: When are you leaving?||Who’s been paying the bills?|
|Do: Where do they live?||Why didn’t you call me?|
|Have: What has she done now?||What have they decided?|
|Modal: Who would she stay with?||Where should I park?|
Without an auxiliary verb
When what, who, which or whose is the subject or part of the subject, we do not use the auxiliary. We use the word order subject + verb:
What fell off the wall? Which horse won?
Who bought this? Whose phone rang?
|Who owns this bag?||Who is the subject of the sentence and this bag is the object. We use no auxiliary verb.|
|Who do you love most?||Who is the object of the sentence and you is the subject. We use the auxiliary verb do.|
Responding to wh-questions
Wh-questions ask for information and we do not expect a yes-no answer to a wh-question. We expect an answer which gives information:
A: Where’s the coffee machine?
(We expect an answer about the location of the coffee machine.)
B: It’s in the room next to the reception.
A: How old is your dog?
(We expect an answer about the age of the dog.)
B: She’s about five. I’m not very sure.
Adding emphasis to wh-questions
We can add emphasis to wh-questions in speaking by stressing the auxiliary verb do. We usually do this when we have not already received the information that we expected from an earlier question, or to show strong interest.
When the wh-word is the object of the sentence, the do auxiliary is stressed to make it more emphatic:
A: How was your weekend in Edinburgh?
B: I didn’t go to Edinburgh.
A: Really. Where did you go?
B: We decided to go to Glasgow instead.
When the wh-word is the subject of the sentence, we can add the auxiliary do to make it emphatic. We stress do:
A: Ronald Price lives in that house, doesn’t he?
B: No. He moved out.
A: So who does live there?
(non-emphatic question: So who lives there?)
B: Actually, his son is living there now.
When we ask negative wh-questions, we use the auxiliary verb do when there is no other auxiliary or modal verb, even when the wh-word is the subject of the clause:
|Affirmative with no auxiliary||Negative with auxiliary do|
|Who wants an ice cream?||Who doesn’t want an ice cream?|
|Which door opened?||Which door didn’t open?|
Adding a wh-word at the end of a statement to make a question
> Spoken English:
In speaking, we can sometimes turn wh-questions into statement questions:
What’s today’s date? or Today’s date is what?
We do this especially when we are checking information that we have already been given or when we want to quickly check a particular detail. These are less formal than full wh-questions:
A: So we’re all going to be there at eight?
B: Right, I’m travelling with Larry.
A: You’re travelling with who?
(more formal: Who are you travelling with?)
B: With Larry. We’re actually going on our bikes.
A: Is your sister here too or just your mother?
B: Just my mother.
A: And she’s here until when?
(more formal: And when is she here until?
or even more formal: Until when is she here?)
Intonation and wh-questions
The intonation of wh-questions is normally falling. The falling intonation is on the most important syllable:
Where are the keys to the back door?
Why are the lights red?
When we ask wh-questions to check or clarify information that has already been given, we may use rising or fall-rising intonation:
What did you say the time was?
(I know you’ve told me before but I’ve forgotten.)
Who paid for the meal?
Prepositions and particles with wh-questions
We can use wh-words and phrases after prepositions in more formal questions:
Where will the money come from?
From where will the money come? (formal)
> Spoken English:
In informal styles, especially in speaking, the preposition may be separated and placed at the end of the question clause:
What will I talk to her about?
Who should we send the invitation to? (informal)
Whom should we send the invitation to? (formal)
To whom should we send the invitation? (more formal)
For what reason did she leave him? (formal: preposition + wh-phrase)
When we make questions shorter, we usually put the preposition and its complement together:
A: We’re all meeting up tonight.
B: At what time?
Not: What time at?
When we ask questions using verbs consisting of a main verb + particle, e.g. get up, set out (phrasal verbs), we do not separate the verb from the particle or preposition:
When did you wake up this morning?
Not: Up when did you wake?