Wh- Questions: Asking Questions for ESL Learners


Asking and answering questions is a key ability for English learners. 

If you’re having difficulty going beyond yes or no questions, then pay attention because this article is made for you! Understanding Wh- questions is going to open your world. In this article, we’re going to break down the meaning of Wh- words and explain how to use them to form different questions.


What are the Wh- words?

When someone says the ‘wh- words’, they’re talking about the seven words—and one other that doesn’t start with ‘wh’—that we use to begin a question. They are: who, what, when, where, why, which, whose, and how.


How do I use Wh- words?

For clarity, let’s break down each word and explore its usage. We’ll also provide some examples for reference.



Beginning a question with ‘who’ says you’re speaking about a person.


Person A: Who is that? 
Person B: He’s the new manager.

Person A: Who directed the movie Star Wars?
Person B: George Lucas directed it.

Person A: Who lives in that house over there?
Person B: The Johnson family lives there.

Person A: Who put my keys in the cabinet?
Person B: Tim did it.



Start a question with ‘when’ to ask about things related to time.

Person A: When are we leaving?
Person B: We’ll leave pretty soon.

Person A: When did you leave last night?
Person B: I left after I finished my homework.

Person A: When is Thanksgiving in America?
Person B: Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November.


Questions that begin with ‘where’ refer to a place.

Person A: Where are we going to eat?
Person B: He said we’re going to that new restaurant on Main Street.

Person A: Where did you go last night?
Person B: I went out with some friends after work.

Person A: Where is my car?
Person B: We parked over there by that tree.

Person A: Where can I go to improve my English even more?
Person B: At the SpeakUp Facebook Group by Magoosh


Person A: Why are we going this way?
Person B: Because it’s a shorter route.

Person A: Why did she say that?
Person B: I think she’s been under a lot of pressure lately at work.

Person A: Why is the tv show Friends still so popular?
Person B: I think it’s because people still relate to the characters even years later.


Begin a question with ‘what’ to ask about a thing.

Person A: What did they discuss in the meeting?
Person B: They were talking about last month’s sales numbers.

Person A: What did you eat for dinner?
Person B: I had leftover spaghetti.

Person A: What should I wear to my interview?
Person B: Something that’s not too casual, but not too professional. Business casual should be fine.


Questions that begin with ‘which’ refer to a choice.

Person A: When did you leave last night?
Person B: I left after I finished my homework.

Person A: When did you leave last night?
Person B: I left after I finished my homework.

Person A: When did you leave last night?
Person B: I left after I finished my homework.


Questions that start with ‘whose’ refer to possession.

Person A: Whose keys are these?
Person B: They’re mine. I left them on the table.

Person A: Whose line is it anyway?
Person B: I think Brandon has the next line.

Person A: Whose book did you borrow?
Person B: Tiffany had an extra copy.


Begin a question with ‘how’ to ask about a method or way.

Person A: How are we going to get out of here?
Person B: If we break this panel, we can climb out of here.

Person A: How do you say ‘I love you’ in English?
Person B: I’m not sure, but Magoosh has a great blog about it!

Person A: How did your date go?
Person B: Very well! We’re going out again next week.

Are there any patterns to forming wh- questions?

Yes! Fortunately, there are two basic patterns you can use to form questions in English with wh-.

1. With a be verb

This pattern looks like this: wh- word + be + subject

    • What is that?
    • Who are you?
    • Where are we?
    • Why is that?
    • When is it?
    • Which is it?
    • How is she?

2. As part of a regular verb pattern

The regular verb pattern looks like this: wh- word + auxiliary verb + subject + verb

  • What did I do?
  • Where do you want to go?
  • How did we get here?
  • Why does he always do that?

Other verbs and tenses

The auxiliary verb in the formula above isn’t used in every single situation. But in questions, the auxiliary verbs do, does, and did are the most common—as you can see from the examples.

Modal verbs like can and should are also commonly used as in:

  • What can I do about it?
  • How should I get there?

Finally, different tenses can also be used to alter or match the time of a question as in:

  • What will we do when she leaves?
  • How have I made your life easier?


And with that, you’re all set to start expanding your range of questions. With more questions, you’ll also be able to grow your vocabulary and speaking skills, so keep asking!

If you want to speak with other English learners to grow English even more, try SpeakUp by Magoosh. We offer hours of speaking time and feedback from native speakers to make sure you’re pronouncing everything correctly. 

Reading blogs is one thing, but practicing opens up new opportunities to learn more! There’s no boring lectures or repetitive theories. We offer just pure practice and feedback.

Jake Pool

Jake Pool

Jake Pool worked in the restaurant industry for over a decade and left to pursue his career as a writer and ESL teacher. In his time at Magoosh, he's worked with hundreds of students and has created content that's informed—and hopefully inspired!—ESL students all across the globe. Jake records audio for his articles to help students with pronunciation and comprehension as he also works as a voice-over artist who has been featured in commercials and on audiobooks. You can read his posts on the Magoosh blog and see his other work on his portfolio page at jakepool.net. You can follow him on LinkedIn!
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