Learn English Grammar

Learn English Grammar

Asking English Questions

Simple Guide to Asking Open Questions in English

Overview | Closed questions | Open questions | Rhetorical questions | Tag questions | Direct / Indirect Questions

Object Questions | Subject Questions

"I KEEP six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who."

Rudyard Kipling - The Elephant's Child

As an English learner you will probably already be familiar with several open questions:-

  • What is your name?
  • Where do you come from?
  • When does the lesson begin?
  • Which course should I take?
  • Why am I here?
  • Who are you?
  • How does this website work?
  • Whose website is this?

None of the above questions can be answered with a simple, yes or no.

Open questions leave room for a description or opinion, and are more useful in eliciting information.

Open questions are often called Wh.. questions:-

There are eight wh-questions - what, when, where, which, who, whom, whose and why and to this list we usually add how as they are all used to elicit particular kinds of information.

You use what when you are asking for information about something.
You use when to ask about the time that something happened or will happen.
You use where to ask questions about place or position.
You use which when you are asking for information about one of a limited number of things.
You use who or whom when you are asking about someone's identity.
You use whose to ask about possession.
You use why to ask for a reason.
You use how to ask about the way in which something is done.

Question word Verb + Answer
What is your name? My name is Lynne.
When is the party? The party is on Tuesday.
Where are you from? I'm from England.
Which is your car? The red car is mine.
Who are you? I'm Lynne.
Whose is this web site? It's mine.
Why is this web site here? Because it is!
How are you? I'm fine thanks.

What, which and whose can be used with or without a noun as a question word.

For example:-

What time is it? = What is the time?
Which car is yours? = Which is your car?
Whose web site is this? = Whose is this web site?

Whom can only be used to elicit information about the object of the sentence. Although using whom would be grammatically correct, we normally use who instead because it doesn’t sound so formal.

For example:-

"Whom did you see?" would normally be expressed as "Who did you see?"

Who, what, which and whose can all be used to elicit information about the subject or object of the sentence.

For example:-

If the answer is "I ate the banana." the object question would be "What did you eat?" and the subject question would be "Who ate the banana?"

Object Questions

Object questions ask about the object of a sentence. The word order of the question must be changed and the question requires the use of the auxiliary verb 'to do'.

For example:-

If the answer is "I caught the train to London." the question would be "Which train did you catch?"
If the answer is "I saw a film yesterday." the question would be "What did you do yesterday?"

Subject Questions

There are also subject questions. These are questions that we ask to find out about the subject. When what, which, who or whose refers to the subject, the question word comes before the verb without the use of the auxiliary verb.

For example:-

If the answer is "The train to London was late." the question would be "Which train was late?"
If the answer is "I won the race." the question would be "Who won the race?"

More examples:-

Object questions:-

Who gave you those chocolates?
What did you do today?
Which film did you like best?
Who did I phone?

Subject questions:-

Who did that?
What happened today?
Which film is best?

You can practise asking and answering questions on the forum.
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