Question words in English grammar

For a useful summary on how to make questions in the Present Simple tense, see our page on the Present Simple.

Be careful of the word order when you make questions. Remember:

1. Question word
2. Auxiliary
3. Subject
4. Verb

For example:

(1)Where (2)do (3)you (4)live?
(1)Why (2)do (3)you (4)want to study English?
(1)Who (2)do (3)you (4)know at this party?
(1)How (2)do (3)you (4)go to work?

This is the same order for questions using the verb "to be", where the verb "to be" is the auxiliary:

(1)What time (2)is (3)it? (Verb to be)
(1)What (2)are (3)you (4)doing? (Present Continuous tense)

Question words in English

The main question words are:

What (for a thing, when there are many things)
Which (for a thing, when there aren't many things)
Who (for a person)
Where (for a place)
Why (for a reason)
When (for a time)
How (for a method)
Whose (to ask about possession)

Examples

What is your name?
Which gym do you go to?
Who is your boss?
Where do you hang out at the weekends?
Why do you hate your job?
When is your birthday?
How do you learn English words?
Whose book is this?

But we can also make compound questions by putting together two words.

How often…? (to talk about frequency)
How long…? (to talk about duration)
How much…? (to talk about quantity in uncountable nouns)
How many…? (to talk about quantity in countable nouns)
What kind / What type…?
Which kind / which type…?

Examples

How often do you play football?
How long does it take to fly from London to Paris?
How much does a ticket cost?
How many brothers and sisters do you have?
What kind of car do you drive?
Which type of sport do you play: team sports or individual sports?

Remember to use the same word order: question word + auxiliary + subject + verb

Frequency words in English

There are lots of ways we can use to talk about how often we do something.

For example:

How often do you go to the gym?

Once a week
Twice a week
Once a fortnight (fortnight = 2 weeks)
Every day
Every two or three days

You can also use adverbs of frequency:

Always (100% of the time)
Often (80% of the time)
Usually (80% of the time)
Sometimes (50 – 50% of the time)
From time to time (30 – 50% of the time)
Hardly ever (5 – 10% of the time)
Never (0% of the time)

I never go to the gym – I hate it!
I go there from time to time.
I hardly ever go.

Remember the word order rule: these adverbs go after the verb to be and other auxiliaries, and before other verbs.

He is never sad.
She often gets up early.

For more information about adverbs of frequency, see our page on English adjectives and adverbs.

Duration in English

We use "How long…?" to ask about the length of time.

With the verb "to be"

How long is the lesson?
How long was your journey?

With the verb "take"

You need the auxiliary do / does to ask a question with take:

How long does it take to fly to Rome? (Use "it" because you are talking about a thing, not a person)

How long did the journey take? (You don't need "it" because you have the subject "journey")

When you ask a person about the time they need to do something, there are three possibilities in English:

How long does it take you / him / her / them to …
How long does it take to…
How long do you / they take to…

How long did it take you to read the book? ("did it take you" = the time you needed)
Or
How long did it take to read the book?

How long do you take to eat dinner? (you take the time – no "it")
Or
How long does it take you to eat dinner)?
Or
How long does it take to eat dinner? (you are asking about the duration of dinner, not the time you need to eat dinner)

Question words exercise

Click the Start button below to begin the exercise. For each question, select the missing word from the choices. Then click the arrow on the right to go to the next question.
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