Which vs. What

When do I use “Which” or “What” as the first word in a question?

When you look up “which” and “what” in a German dictionary, you will see both words translate to “welcher/welche/welches”.  So how do they differ in meaning? Which word do I use when? (Sorry, I had to use the word “which”.)

Explanations with examples for “which”:

We use “which” ONLY when there is a known choice available. There can be 2 or 20: the number of choices doesn’t matter but they often can be seen.

Example 1:

Situation: You are standing in front of a shop window and can see 2 cameras:  You ask your friend: “Which camera do you like”?  In this case, there is a limited number of choices and they can be seen.

Photographer Annie Spratt

Example 2:

Which dress do you like better?  This one or that one?

Example 3:

Here’s one from the Internet (2016):

Which Premier League Manager is facing the biggest headache?

 

Explanations with examples for “what” and “what kind of”:

We use “What?” or “What kind of” when we ask a general open question without any specific choices known.  In the answer, you may think of several different choices, but none of these choices have been specified to you in the question. 

Example 1:

Situation: Imagine you are at someone’s home as a guest and they ask: “What would you like to drink?”  You can not see the choices so you ask in return: “What do you have?” or “What’s easy?”

Examples 2 & 3

Situation: You want to learn more about someone and their preferences. You ask:

“What kind of apples do you like?”

(There are many “kinds” or “varieties” of apples but no specific variety has been specified in the question.)

Example 3

What is your favorite color?

(Again – a very open, general question to find out someone’s tastes.)

Let’s see now if you can complete the following quick practice exercise.

 

Quick Practice Exercise: Which vs. What

Fill in the blank with “which” or “what”.  (Answers provided below).

1. _________ time is it?  
2. _________ meeting would you like to attend – the morning or afternoon one?
3. ________ did they say about your report? Did they like it?
4. Can you tell me _________ is the correct answer, please?  
5. __________ contestant do you think will win?  
 
  

 Answers to Practice 1 Exercise: Which vs. What

  1. What
  2. Which
  3. What
  4. what or which (what – if asking in general: which – if you can see 2 or more choices)
  5. Which (there are a number of contestants you have seen perform)

 

Quick Practice 2  Exercise: What vs. What kind of

Fill in the blank with “which” or “what”.  (Answers provided below).

1. _________ is your favorite number?  
2. _________ home would you prefer to live in: an apartment or a house?
3. ________ city has the tallest building?
4. Can you tell me _________ you would like to do now?  I am completely out of ideas.
5. __________ car do you have?  There are three more people who need a ride.  Is it big enough for us all?  
 

Answers to Practice 2 Exercise: What vs. What kind of

  1. What
  2. What kind of
  3. What
  4. what 
  5. What kind of

 

The creative commons license photographs used on this page were just two from thousands of talented photographers showcased on a Canadian venture called Upsplash. To view their collection, please check out: Upsplash.com

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