Interrogative word

An interrogative word or question word is a function word used to ask a question, such as what, which, when, where, who, whom, whose, why, whether and how. They are sometimes called wh-words, because in English most of them start with wh-. They may be used in both direct questions and in indirect questions. In English and various other languages the same forms are also used as relative pronouns in certain relative clauses and certain adverb clauses.
A particular type of interrogative word is the interrogative particle, which serves to convert a statement into a yes–no question, without having any other meaning. Examples include est-ce que in French, ли li in Russian, czy in Polish, ĉu in Esperanto, কি ki in Bengali, / ma in Mandarin Chinese, /mi in Turkish, pa in Ladin, か ka in Japanese, ko/kö in Finnish and ли li in Serbo-Croatian. Such particles contrast with other interrogative words, which form what are called wh-questions rather than yes–no questions.
For more information about the grammatical rules for forming questions in various languages, see Interrogative.

In English


Interrogative words in English include:
Certain pronominal adverbs may also be used as interrogative words, such as whereby or wherefore.
For a complete list, see on Wiktionary.

Yes-no questions

Yes-no questions can begin with an interrogative particle, such as:
English questions can also be formed without an interrogative word, by changing the intonation or punctuation of a statement. For example: "You're done eating?"


Ultimately, the English interrogative pronouns, derive from the Proto-Indo-European root kwo- or kwi, the former of which was reflected in Proto-Germanic as χwa- or khwa-, due to Grimm's law.
These underwent further sound changes and spelling changes, notably wh-cluster reductions, resulting in the initial sound being either /w/ or /h/ and the initial spelling being either wh or h. This was the result of two sound changes – /hw/ > /h/ before /uː/ and /hw/ > /w/ otherwise – and the spelling change from hw to wh in Middle English. The unusual pronunciation versus spelling of who is because the vowel was formerly /aː/, and thus it did not undergo the sound change in Old English, but in Middle English the vowel changed to /uː/ and it followed the same sound change as how before it, but with the Middle English spelling unchanged.
In how, the w merged into the lave of the word, as it did in Old Frisian hū, hō, but it can still be seen in Old Saxon hwō, Old High German hwuo. In English, the gradual change of voiceless stops into voiceless fricatives during the development of Germanic languages is responsible for "wh-" of interrogatives. Although some varieties of American English and various Scottish dialects still preserve the original sound, most have only the .
The words who, whom, whose, what and why, can all be considered to come from a single Old English word hwā, reflecting its masculine and feminine nominative, dative, genitive, neuter nominative and accusative, and instrumental respectively. Other interrogative words, such as which, how, where, whence, or whither, derive either from compounds, or other words from the same root.
The Proto-Indo-European root also directly originated the Latin and Romance form qu- in words such as Latin quī and quando ; it has also undergone sound and spelling changes, as in French "which", with initial /k/, and Spanish , with initial /kw/.

Forms with ''-ever''

Most English interrogative words can take the suffix -ever, to form words such as whatever and wherever. These words have the following main meanings:
Some of these words have also developed independent meanings, such as however as an adverb meaning "nonetheless"; whatsoever as an emphatic adverb used with no, none, any, nothing, etc. ; and whatever in its slang usage.

Other languages

Australian Aboriginal Languages

Interrogative pronouns in Australian Aboriginal Languages are a diverse set of lexical items with functions extending far beyond simply the formation of questions. These pronominal stems are sometimes called ignoratives or epistememes because their broader function is to convey differing degrees of perceptual or epistemic certainty. Often, a singular ignorative stem may serve a variety of interrogative functions that would be expressed by different lexical items in, say, English through contextual variation and interaction with other morphology such as case-marking. In Jingulu, for example, the single stem nyamba may come to mean 'what,' 'where,' 'why,' or 'how' through combination with locative, dative, ablative, and instrumental case suffixes:
Other closely related languages, however, have less interrelated ways of forming wh-questions with separate lexemes for each of these wh-pronouns. This includes Wardaman, which has a collection of entirely unrelated interrogative stems: yinggiya ‘who,’ ngamanda ‘what,’ guda ‘where,’ nyangurlang ‘when,’ gun.garr-ma ‘how many/what kind.’
Mushin and Verstraete provide detailed overviews of the broader functions of ignoratives in an array of languages. The latter focuses on the lexeme ngaani in many Paman Languages which can have a Wh-like interrogative function but can also have a sense of epistemic indefiniteness or uncertainty like 'some' or 'perhaps;' see the following examples from Umpithamu:
Adnominal / Determiner


A frequent class of interrogative words in several other languages is the interrogative verb:
  • Korean:
  • *Nalssi-ga eotteo-sseumni-kka?
  • *Weather-nominative fifth level-interrogative suffix
  • *"How's the weather?"
  • Mongolian:
  • *Chi yaa-vch jaahan huuhed bish gej bi bod-jii-ne
  • *You do.what-concessive small child not that I think-progressive-nonpast
  • *"Whatever you do, I think you’re not a small child."