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Interrogatives in English

Home » Advanced English Grammar » Interrogatives in English

Interrogatives in English

What are interrogatives? We use interrogatives to ask questions, they are essentially questioning words, and they come in different parts of speech.

  • Adjectives whose interrogative forms are: whose, what and which.
  • Adverbs whose interrogative forms are: why, where, how and when.
  • Pronouns whose interrogative forms are: who, which, whom, what and whose.

The different parts of speech (adjectives, adverbs, and pronouns) can take two or more different functions (parts of speech), I.e., the adjective “why” can also function as a noun in:

  • I don’t know about the why of your question. (Here, “why” is functioning as a noun and not an interrogative adverb).

But they will always retain their interrogative nature because they are interrogatives.

We also construct interrogatives in English using both normal questions and question tags. I.e.

  • Do you know me? = normal question.
  • You know me, don’t you? = question tag.

Interrogatives adjectives: whose, what and which.

  • Whose dog is that? It is his.
  • What are you doing Sam?
  • Which station would you?

More on Interrogative adjectives 

Interrogatives in English: which or what

Both are possible with little to no difference in meaning, only that ‘which’ has more nuances denoting specificity. ie. when you want to make a choice between two or more things or people, ‘which’ is preferable.

Interrogative adverbs: why, where, how and when.

  • Why does Paris seem so beautiful?
  • Where on earth did you find that?
  • How do you expect us to know how to get to Beijing.
  • When does your plane leave for Japan?

More on Interrogative adverbs

Interrogative pronouns: who, which, whom, what and whose.

  • Who emailed you last night? (‘who’ refers to a person here, thus it is both an interrogative pronoun and adjective).
  • Which flight will you take tonight? (both interrogative pronoun and adjective).
  • Whom has he mailed? (‘whom’ is becoming less and less unused, and replaced with ‘who’. The correct form, however, is ‘whom’ because it references to the object in the sentence while ‘who’ references to the subject). (in this context).
  • What do you know about our company? (both an interrogative pronoun and adjective.
  • Whose clothes are those lying on the floor? They are Peter’s. (Both interrogative pronoun and adjective).

(Remember, they are called ‘interrogative pronouns’ because they replace the noun)

Interrogatives in English: who vs. whom

Who = subject in the sentence

  • Who runs this shop? Jim runs this shop.  (‘Jim‘ is the subject, hence ‘who’).
  • Who lives here? I live here.  (‘I‘ is the subject, hence ‘who’).

Whom = object in the sentence

  • Whom did Jeffrey work for? He worked for George. (‘George’ is the object of the sentence, hence ‘whom’).
  • Whom did the boss select? He selected the best candidate. (‘candidate’ is the object of the sentence, hence ‘whom’).

‘Whom’ is becoming increasingly less used in modern culture, but it is still considered the correct interrogative when referring to the object.

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