What vs. Which: What's the Difference?
"What" generally asks about the identity of something, while "Which" selects from a limited set of items or options.
"What" is a common interrogative pronoun that is often used to inquire about the identity or nature of an item or concept. On the other hand, "Which" is also an interrogative pronoun but it is typically used when there's a known set of options or choices to select from.
When asking a broad or open-ended question, "What" is often the go-to choice. For instance, "What do you want to eat?" leaves the respondent free to answer anything. Conversely, "Which" is employed when there are specified options, like, "Which of these fruits do you prefer: apples or oranges?"
Both "What" and "Which" can begin questions, but the context determines their usage. For instance, "What is your favorite book?" does not limit the respondent to a set list. But, "Which book did you find most interesting among the ones we read this semester?" presupposes a predetermined list.
In some cases, the distinction between "What" and "Which" is subtle and depends on the speaker's intent. "What movie should we watch?" is an open invitation for suggestions. "Which movie should we watch, the action film or the comedy?" narrows down the choices.
Notably, while both "What" and "Which" are utilized in questions, they can also appear in statements. For example, "I wonder what she's doing right now" versus "I wonder which route she took to get home."
Asks about identity/nature
Selects from a limited set of options
Specified or known options
Range of Answer
Any response, not limited
Typically from a given set of options
Can express wonder or curiosity
Can indicate a choice among known options
What and Which Definitions
An interrogative pronoun asking about identity or nature.
What is your name?
An interrogative pronoun selecting from a known set.
Which dress are you wearing tonight?
Which one or ones of several or many
What college are you attending? You should know what musical that song is from.
Used to differentiate between a limited number of items.
Which one do you prefer, tea or coffee?
They soon repaired what damage had been done.
Indicates a choice among known entities.
She wondered which book to read next.
How great; how astonishing
What a fool!.
Refers to one item out of a specific group.
Which of these shirts is yours?
How much; in what respect; how
What does it matter?.
Questions the suitability among options.
Which route is faster?
I don't know but what I'll go.
What particular one or ones of a number of things or people
Which part of town do you mean?.
Used to express surprise, incredulity, or other strong and sudden excitement.
Any one or any number of; whichever
Use which door you please.
Chiefly British Used as a tag question, often to solicit agreement.
Being the one or ones previously mentioned or implied
It started to rain, at which point we ran.
(interrogative) Which, especially which of an open-ended set of possibilities.
What colour are you going to use?
What time is it?
What kind of car is that?
(interrogative) What, of those mentioned or implied.
Which song shall we play?
They couldn't decide which song to play.
Which one is bigger?
Show me which one is bigger.
(relative) Which; the ... that.
I know what colour I am going to use.
That depends on what answer is received.
The/Any ... that; whichever.
You may go which way you please.
(relative) Any ... that; all ... that; whatever.
He seems to have lost what sense he had.
What money I earn is soon spent.
Designates the one(s) previously mentioned.
He once owned a painting of the house, which painting would later be stolen.
Yesterday, I met three men with long beards, which men I remember vividly.
For several seconds he sat in silence, during which time the tea and sandwiches arrived.
I'm thinking of getting a new car, in which case I'd get a red one.
Emphasises that something is noteworthy or remarkable in quality or degree, in either a good or bad way; may be used in combination with certain other determiners, especially 'a', less often 'some'.
This shows what beauty there is in nature.
You know what nonsense she talks.
I found out what a liar he is.
(interrogative) What one or ones (of those mentioned or implied).
Which is which?
By now, you must surely know which is which.
Which is bigger, the red one or the blue one?
I'm unable to determine which is bigger.
Which of these do you want to keep?
Used to form exclamations.
Wow! What a speech.
What some lovely weather we've been having!
What beautiful children you have.
With what passion she sings!
The/Any ones that; whichever.
Please take which you please.
(interrogative) Which thing, event, circumstance, etc.: used in asking for the specification of an identity, quantity, quality, etc.
What is your name?
Ask them what they want.
(relative) Introduces a relative clause giving further information about something previously mentioned.
He walked by a door with a sign, which read: PRIVATE OFFICE.
I found my camera, which I thought I'd lost, under the bed.
No art can be properly understood apart from the culture of which it is a part.
He had to leave, which was very difficult.
(fused relative) That which; those that; the thing(s) that.
He knows what he wants.
What is amazing is his boundless energy.
And, what's even worse, I have to work on Sunday too.
Used of people (now generally whom, that; which remains possible with words also referred to by it like baby, child).}}
(fused relative) Anything that; all that; whatever.
I will do what I can to help you.
What is mine is yours.
Of what sort or kind; what; what a; who.
And which they weren and of what degree.
That; which; who.
'Ere! There's that bloke what I saw earlier!
A relative pronoun, used esp. in referring to an antecedent noun or clause, but sometimes with reference to what is specified or implied in a sentence, or to a following noun or clause (generally involving a reference, however, to something which has preceded). It is used in all numbers and genders, and was formerly used of persons.
And when thou fail'st - as God forbid the hour! -Must Edward fall, which peril heaven forfend!
God . . . rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.
Our Father, which art in heaven.
The temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.
(interrogative) In what way; to what extent.
What does it matter?
What do you care?
A compound relative or indefinite pronoun, standing for any one which, whichever, that which, those which, the . . . which, and the like; as, take which you will.
Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?
Used before a prepositional phrase to emphasise that something is taken into consideration as a cause or reason; usually used in combination with 'with' (see what with), and much less commonly with other prepositions.
An expression of surprise or disbelief.
What! That’s amazing!
What do you want? An abrupt, usually unfriendly enquiry as to what a person desires.
What? I'm busy.
Clipping of what do you say? Used as a type of tag question to emphasise a statement and invite agreement, often rhetorically.
It’s a nice day, what?
What did you say? I beg your pardon?
— Could I have some of those aarrrrrr mmmm ...
Indicating a guess or approximation, or a pause to try to recall information.
I must have been, what, about five years old.
Something; thing; stuff.
(countable) The identity of a thing, as an answer to a question of what.
(countable) Something that is addressed by what, as opposed to a person, addressed by who.
As an interrogative pronoun, used in asking questions regarding either persons or things; as, what is this? what did you say? what poem is this? what child is lost?
What see'st thou in the ground?
What is man, that thou art mindful of him?
What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him!
As an exclamatory word: - (a) Used absolutely or independently; - often with a question following.
What, could ye not watch with me one hour?
Used adjectively, meaning how remarkable, or how great; as, what folly! what eloquence! what courage!
What a piece of work is man!
O what a riddle of absurdity!
As a relative pronoun
Sometimes prefixed to adjectives in an adverbial sense, as nearly equivalent to how; as, what happy boys!
What partial judges are our love and hate!
Used substantively with the antecedent suppressed, equivalent to that which, or those [persons] who, or those [things] which; - called a compound relative.
With joy beyond what victory bestows.
I'm thinking Captain Lawton will count the noses of what are left before they see their whaleboats.
What followed was in perfect harmony with this beginning.
I know well . . . how little you will be disposed to criticise what comes to you from me.
Whatever; whatsoever; what thing soever; - used indefinitely.
Whether it were the shortness of his foresight, the strength of his will, . . . or what it was.
Used adjectively, equivalent to the . . . which; the sort or kind of . . . which; rarely, the . . . on, or at, which.
See what natures accompany what colors.
To restrain what power either the devil or any earthly enemy hath to work us woe.
We know what master laid thy keel,What workmen wrought thy ribs of steel.
Used adverbially, in part; partly; somewhat; - with a following preposition, especially, with, and commonly with repetition.
What for lust [pleasure] and what for lore.
Thus, what with the war, what with the sweat, what with the gallows, and what with poverty, I am custom shrunk.
The year before he had so used the matter that what by force, what by policy, he had taken from the Christians above thirty small castles.
What time the morn mysterious visions brings.
Used adverbially in a sense corresponding to the adjectival use; as, he picked what good fruit he saw.
Why? For what purpose? On what account?
What should I tell the answer of the knight.
But what do I stand reckoning upon advantages and gains lost by the misrule and turbulency of the prelates? What do I pick up so thriftily their scatterings and diminishings of the meaner subject?
Something; thing; stuff.
And gave him for to feed,Such homely what as serves the simple lown.
Used to ask for specific information.
What time is it?
A word to express inquiry about a subject.
What are your hobbies?
Used to refer to the degree or extent of something.
What does it matter?
Inquiring the characteristics of something.
What kind of music do you like?
What's the primary distinction between "What" and "Which"?
"What" asks about identity/nature, while "Which" selects from known options.
Can "Which" be employed for open-ended inquiries?
Typically, "Which" is for specified options, but context is key.
In what scenario would I use "What" over "Which"?
Use "What" for general, open-ended questions and "Which" for choices among a set.
Do "What" and "Which" only initiate questions?
No, both can also appear in statements or exclamations, like "What a day!" or "Which is just what I thought."
Is "Which" exclusively about making choices?
Mostly, but it can also ask for specific info from a known set.
How do I determine when to use "What" vs. "Which" in questions?
Reflect on whether you're asking broadly or choosing from given options.
In questions about categories or types, which word is preferred?
"What" is usually used, as in "What type of fruit is that?"
How do "What" and "Which" operate in relative clauses?
Both can introduce relative clauses, like "The book what/which I read."
Can "Which" be used without presenting explicit options?
Yes, if the options are implied or understood from context.
When asking about preferences, should I use "What" or "Which"?
"Which" if options are given; "What" if the question is open-ended.
Can "What" and "Which" be used interchangeably?
At times, but their standard usages differ based on context and intent.
Can "What" refer to a choice among known items?
Rarely. For clear choices, "Which" is more appropriate.
How do "What" and "Which" function in negative questions?
Similarly, like "What don't you like?" or "Which isn't your bag?"
When asking about definitions, do I use "What" or "Which"?
"What" is common, as in "What is photosynthesis?"
Can "What" and "Which" begin non-question sentences?
Yes, e.g., "What a surprise!" or "Which reminds me of a joke."
Do "What" and "Which" have similar words in other languages?
Many languages have distinct words for these, but exact usage can vary.
When asking about time, which word is apt?
"What" is suitable, as in "What time is it?"
Are "What" and "Which" used differently in American and British English?
Generally, usage is consistent, but minor regional variations might occur.
In terms of frequency, is one word used more than the other?
"What" is more versatile and tends to appear more frequently than "Which."
How have "What" and "Which" evolved in English over time?
Both have Old English roots and have retained their questioning functions over centuries.
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