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Interrogative adverbs

What are interrogative adverbs? They are: why, where, when, and how. We use interrogative adverbs to ask questions.

When we use these interrogative adverbs to ask questions, we must invert the subject with the auxiliary verb. For example,

  • ‘Why can you?’

And not:

  • ‘Why you can?’

Why: we use ‘why’ to acquire a “reason” for something

  • Why are you late today?
  • Why does David always ask just boring questions?
  • Why can’t we go to the beach this Saturday, dad?

Note that, in all these examples the order is ‘interrogative adverb-auxiliary verb-subject’, as is the correct order for asking questions regardless of the adverb.

Where: we use the interrogative adverb ‘where’ to talk and ask about a “place”

  • Where does Gemma live?
  • Where do we have to go tonight?
  • Where is the shop that you spoke to me about?

When: we use the interrogative adverb ‘when’ in reference to “time”

  • When must we leave home?
  • When should they advise us of the problem?
  • When can I see you next?

How: we use the interrogative adverb ‘how’ to talk about the manner, degree, time, amount, or quantity in which something is done

  • How did you know what he was talking about?
  • How can you show me the directions?
  • How does Jeremy know about our secret?
  • How much electricity did he use up?
  • How many drinks would you like?

In all the above examples we have examples of ‘how’ with; manner, degree, time, amount, and quantity.

English courses

Interrogative adverbs with context and analysis

  • Good morning Steve1. How2 was your weekend?
  • Morning Susan, it was great thanks. I had a nice weekend outside the U.K.
  • Ah, fantastic. Where3 did you go then?
  • Well, I went with my friend to Belgium4 via the English Channel. It was very interesting because it’s the first time we have been to Belgium.
  • So, why5 did you guys6 decide to go to Belgium?
  • We heard that several cities in the northern region of Flanders7 are particularly beautiful8. Cities such as, Ghent, Bruges, Liege and also Brussels.
  • How did you manage to do cover9 all those cities10 in just two days?
  • We just had day trips, going to two cities per day and staying the night in the last city we had visited. It was good fun.
  • I bet it was! Where will you go next time?
  • Well, I’d11 like to go to Northern France, but the drive is too far, so I’ll have to wait until my vacations. When12 will I have vacations… I just don’t know.
  • Well, good luck.
  • Thanks 


  1. Steve: is the name of a person and thus a proper noun. Proper nouns are always capitalised.
  2. How: interrogative adverb that is used to talk about the manner, degree, time, amount, or quantity in which something is done. In this case, it refers to the weekend.
  3. Where: interrogative adverb that refers to place or destination. In this case, the speaker was wanting to know the destination of where he went.
  4. Belgium: is a country and therefore a proper noun. Remember to always capitalise proper nouns.
  5. Why: interrogative adverb that we use to acquire a reason for something.
  6. You guys: in English, the second person singular and the second person plural are both formed with the subject and object pronoun, you, therefore we usually insert guys after you to distinguish between singular and plural. For example, when will you guys buy the tickets? Guys is referring to more than one person.
  7. Flanders: is in the northern province of Belgium, and therefore a place. Places are proper nouns, so they must be capitalised.
  8. Particularly beautiful: the adverb, particularly is modifying the adjective, beautiful. Adverbs modify adjectives, verbs, and other adverbs.
  9. Cover: verb meaning to reach all the places (Ghent, Brussels etc.), in this particular context.
  10. Those cities: the demonstrative adjective, those is used because here, cities are plural, and the speaker is talking about the cities being distant. The demonstrative adjective, these, wouldn’t work in this particular context because the cities are far away.
  11. I’d: contraction of I would. This contraction can also mean I had, so you can work it out from context whether it’s would or had.
  12. When: an interrogative adverb of time. There’s no question mark (?) because the speaker is asking a rhetorical question. A question that doesn’t require an answer.

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2 thoughts on “Interrogative adverbs”

    1. Hey there,

      “How” can function as an adverb, conjunction or even a noun. Examples of this:

      Adverb: How was your trip?
      Conjunction: I told you how to do it.
      Noun: The how of your problems is beyond me.

      “How” cannot function as a relative adverb. Relative adverbs in English are: when, where and why. Although, “how” can definitely seem like a relative adverb, because as you say, it can go between two clauses (not sentences).

      I hope I was of some help. Please let me know if you have any more doubts.

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