English Level: Low-Intermediate, Intermediate
Language Focus: An explanation of how to form WH-questions (information questions) in English
Grammar Worksheet: asking-wh-questions-worksheet.docx (scroll down to study the exercises online)
Now that we’ve finished our first lesson on Yes/No questions, let’s review how to make Wh-Questions. These questions start with these question words:
|Who||Used to identify a person.||E.g. Who is she?|
|What||Used to identify a thing||E.g. What is it?|
|Which||Used to tell two (or more) things apart.||E.g. Which leg hurts?|
|Where||Used to identify a place.||E.g. Where is Vancouver?|
|When||Used to identify a time.||E.g. When is your birthday?|
|Why||Used to identify a reason.||E.g. Why is she crying?|
|Whose||Used to identify possession.||E.g. Whose car is that?|
|What kind||Used to identify a type/kind.||E.g. What kind of dog do you have?|
|How||Used to explain a way/method.||E.g. How did you make the cake?|
|How long||Used to explain length or duration||E.g. How long is your hair? How long was your holiday?|
|How far||Used to identify distance.||E.g. How far is your house from the station?|
|How much/many/little/few||Used to identify quantity.||E.g. How much money do you have?|
|How often||Used to explain frequency.||E.g. How often do you brush your teeth?|
How do you make a question? Let me explain.
Wh-Questions are also called Information Questions because we are trying to get some specific information from another person (not just a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answer). Read below for an explanation or jump to the exercises if you want to practice.
The Quick Explanation: Wh-Questions about Subjects or Objects
To understand how to make a question, we need to know if we are making a question about the subject or object of a sentence. To explain, look at this sentence:
John likes Lisa.
(subj) + verb + (object)
Now, imagine that some information is missing, so we need to ask a question.
___?__ likes Lisa.
Here, the subject is missing, so we need to use a WH-question word for subjects. These words are who and what, generally. Because we are asking about a person, we will use who.
Who likes Lisa?
(John likes Lisa.)
That’s it. We’re done! Making questions about subjects is easy. Now, let’s imagine that the object of the sentence is missing.
John likes __?__.
Here, with the object missing, we need to do two things to make a question.
- We have to choose the correct WH-Question word. Because we are talking about a person, we will use ‘who‘ again (Note: You can also use ‘whom’ for questions about objects).
- We need to add a helping verb to help us make a question. The sentence “John likes Lisa” doesn’t have a helping verb (no modal or auxiliary verb like ‘will/can/have/is’), so we will add the helping verb ‘do‘ to make the question.
So the question becomes
Who does John like?
- John likes __?__. (We need to know the object)
- John likes who. (We add the Wh-question word ‘who’ because we are talking about people.)
- Who John likes. (We move the Wh-question word to the beginning of the sentence.)
- Who does John like? (We add the helping verb “do” because the sentence does not have a helping verb).
Common mistake: Who do John like? (Incorrect)
Remember to conjugate (change) the helping verb so that it agrees with the subject. ‘John’ is the third person singular, so we have to add an ‘s’ to the auxiliary verb. If you’ve added ‘s’ to the helping verb ‘do’ (does), then you don’t need to add it to the main verb.
That is the end of my quick explanation. If you understand, you can jump down to the exercises below. Otherwise, let me give you a few more examples.
In Detail: Wh-Questions about Subjects
Again, when you are asking a question about the subject, you just need to add the correct Wh-question word (who/what/which). Here are some examples:
__?__ can cook well.
-> We are asking about a person, so we will add who.
-> Who can cook well? Answer: I can cook well.
__?__ is expensive.
-> We are asking about a thing here, so we will add ‘what’.
-> What is expensive? Answer: The hotel is expensive.
__?__ has been ordered.
-> What has been ordered? Answer: The flowers have been ordered.
*Notice that we use ‘has’ and not ‘have’ here. When we ask a question about the subject and there is an auxiliary verb (has/do/be), always put the auxiliary verb in a singular form (= has (not have) or do (not does)).
In Detail: Questions about Objects
Structure: Wh-Question word + Helping Verb + Subject + Main Verb
What do you like?
Answer: I like basketball. (basketball is the object of the verb in the sentence; we are asking about the object.)
To make a question about the object of a sentence, you need a helping verb to put after the Wh-Question word. If the sentence already has a helping verb, then you can use it to make the question. For example,
Peter is doing his homework.
-> The main verb here is ‘doing’, and ‘is’ is the helping verb. If we use the above structure (Wh-Question word + Helping Verb + Subject + Main Verb), the question about the object becomes
What is Peter doing?
Here’s another example.
We can speak Italian.
-> The main verb here is ‘speak’, and ‘can’ is the helping verb. The question about the object becomes
What can we speak?
One more example.
She was washing the dishes.
-> The main verb here is ‘washing’, and ‘was’ is the helping verb. The question about the object becomes
What was she washing?
Reminder: Use ‘Do’ in Questions about the Object without a Helping Verb
Again, if there is no helping verb (auxiliary or modal) in a question about an object, then you should add ‘do’ to make the question.
I bought shoes.
-> The main verb here is bought but there is no helping verb, so to make a question we add ‘do’
What did you buy?
Notice that ‘do’ is changed to ‘did’ because the main verb ‘bought’ was in the past tense. The tense (past simple) is shown in the helping verb, not the main verb.
Note: Do Not Add ‘Do’ with only BE Verb
Do not add ‘do’ to questions about objects (actually it’s called a complement) with the BE verb. Just use the order of Wh-question word + Subject + BE verb.
She is a doctor.
-> What is she?
My birthday is tomorrow.
-> When is your birthday?
Exercise #1: Wh-Questions with Helping Verbs
The underlined word is what you want to know. Make a question to match the answer.
- Q: ? A: He will buy wine.
- Q: ? A: He is playing tennis.
- Q: ? A: He teaches French.
- Q: ? A: We should buy tickets.
- Q: ? A: He has visited Italy.
- Q: ? A: They are students.
- Q: ? A: She can come tomorrow.
- Q: ? A: I ate a salad.
Exercise #2: Wh-Questions about Subjects and Objects
Write the correct question to ask about the underlined word.
- Q: ? A: Donald Trump said that.
- Q: ? A: I study English.
- Q: ? A: December 25th is Christmas.
- Q: ? A: They went to a party.
- Q: ? A: My brother is coming.
- Q: ? A: She called her mother.
- Q: ? A: I’m going downtown tomorrow.
- Q: ? A: Nobody knows the answer.
- Q: ? A: The class starts at 1 p.m.
- Q: ? A: Huge means very big.
- Q: ? A: She was crying because she fell down.
Exercise #3 – Focus on Whose/What kind/How/How long/How Far/Etc
- How is used in two ways: 1) To describe something’s condition or state. How is your health? (It’s good.) 2) To describe a method. How did you make the cake?
- Whose is used for possession. Whose website is this? (It’s mine.)
- What kind is used to identify a type of something. What kind of movies do you like? (I like action movies.)
- How far is used to explain distance. How far is the station from here? (2 kilometres.)
- How long is used to explain length or the length of time. How long is the movie? (2 hours.)
- How much is used to identify the quantity of a non-countable noun. How much time do we have? (We have 10 minutes.)
- How many is used to identify the quantity of a countable noun. How many children are there? (There are eight children.)
- How often is used to explain frequency. How often do you brush your teeth? (Twice a day.)
Now, try to make a question with the below answers using some of the above Wh-Question words.
- Q: ? A: She has two cars.
- Q: ? A: He was at the library for 3 hours.
- Q: ? A: I write with my right hand.
- Q: ? A: Six people live there.
- Q: ? A: She called me in order to invite me.
- Q: ? A: The trip takes one day.
- Q: ? A: It costs three dollars.
- Q: ? A: Their holiday was relaxing.
- Q: ? A: She exercises twice a week.
- Q: ? A: I like rock music.
- Q: ? A: We can meet on Wednesday.
- Q: ? A: I go to school by bus.
- Q: ? A: John’s bag is on the table.
- Q: ? A: He did poorly on the test.
How did you do? I hope you could understand how to form Wh-questions. If you have a question, please ask it in the comment section below. Also, if you need practice with the difference between how far and how long, please view this page.
– Matthew Barton / Creator of Englishcurrent.com (copyright)