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16 / 03 / 2004

WHAT vs. WHICH: meaning and examples

Good morning.

There is lots of confusion about when to use what and when to use which when asking questions in English.

WHAT: is used to ask (with the verb TO BE) about a noun (a person, place or thing) in different types of general questions.

What is your name?
What time is it?
What are you doing?
What is your favourite colour?
What is that?
What is the problem?

WHICH: is used when there is a choice between two or more things.

Which colour do you prefer, red or green?
There are five books here, which one do you want?

In Spanish (and Catalan), "CUAL" is used more than "WHICH" is used in English.

¿Cuál es tu nombre?
¿Cuál es tu color preferido?
¿Cuál es el problema?

In other words, the way that "cual" and "que" are used in Spanish is not the same as the way "which" and "what" are used in English. In general, "which" is much less frequently used.

This Daily Vitamin was inspired by Josep Dach's question about "which" and "what." Thanks Josep!

Have a good day!