Home » Intermediate English Grammar » Interrogatives


Interrogatives are words that ask a question. They are placed at (or near) the beginning of the sentence, and that sentence ends with a question mark. Some interrogatives are pronouns: whowhomwhosewhat, and which. They can act as:

  • the subject of a sentence
  • a direct object
  • the object of a preposition
  • a possessive

Look at these examples:

Subject:Who is standing on the corner?
 Whose is for sale? (The noun subject is understood.)
 What needs to be done?
 Which is for me?
Direct object:Whom did you see last night?
 Whose did you borrow? (The noun object is understood.)
 What will they do?
 Which have you selected?
Preposition:With whom was she dancing?
 About whose was he speaking? (The noun is understood.)
 To what are you referring?
 In which is it located?
Possessive:Whose house burned down? (Whose modifies house.)

Other interrogatives act as adverbshowwhenwhere, and why. Some examples:

QuestionPossible Answer
How did he walk?slowly
When was the party?on Tuesday
Where are you going?to the store
Why are you limping?because my foot hurts

There are also some commonly used phrases that are a combination of whatwhich, and how and other words. Questions are formed with them like with other interrogatives:

  • what brand of, what kind of, what sort of, what about
  • which one, which way, which part of, which of you
  • how much, how many, how often, how about

Of course, these are not the only such combinations. They are examples. You will discover others that are formed similarly. Some example sentences:

  • What kind of dress do you want to buy?
  • What about your brother?
  • Which one is for me?
  • Which of you will help me?

Interrogative words can be used as conjunctions to combine two clauses. But be careful! The sentence formed by using an interrogative as a conjunction is not necessarily a question when combined with another clause. It depends upon whether you are asking a question or making a statement:

Do you know who he is?Jill told me who he is.
Does she understand how it works?I can’t explain how it works.
Who told you where it was?They couldn’t discover where it was.
Can you tell me what kind of car this is?I don’t know what kind of car this is.

Notice the change in word order between a direct question and an interrogative clause combined with another clause. In direct questions the verb precedes the subject. In an interrogative clause the verb follows the subject.

Who are these people?She asked me who these people are.
When did they arrive?I don’t know when they arrived.
How far can he swim?They ask how far he can swim.

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