Difference Wiki

Who vs. What: What's the Difference?

Edited by Huma Saeed || By Sumera Saeed || Updated on November 2, 2023
"Who" refers to persons; "what" refers to things or ideas.

Key Differences

"Who" is a pronoun used to ask about or refer to people. It often serves to inquire about the identity or the nature of a person. "What," on the other hand, is used to refer to things or ideas. It is a pronoun that asks for information specifying something.
Sumera Saeed
Nov 02, 2023
When someone uses "who," they are usually seeking information about an individual or a group of people. For example, "Who won the game?" asks for the identity of the winner, who is presumed to be a person or a team. "What," however, would be used in a broader context, such as "What was the score?" which requests information that is not about a person.
Sumera Saeed
Nov 02, 2023
The word "who" can also imply a search for a role or relationship, as in "Who is the CEO of the company?" It is always about linking a person to an identity or function. Conversely, "what" can be used to inquire about the nature or category of something, like in "What type of phone do you have?" where the inquiry is about an object, not a person.
Sumera Saeed
Nov 02, 2023
In essence, "who" attributes actions or characteristics to people, while "what" is about things and can be about actions in a more abstract sense. If you ask "Who spoke?" you expect the name of a person. If you ask "What was said?" you are looking for the content of the speech, not the speaker.
Sumera Saeed
Nov 02, 2023
"Who" can be subjective (who wants ice cream?), objective (whom did you call?), or possessive (whose coat is this?). "What," however, does not change form and is always used to ask about things or information, such as "What are your plans for today?"
Sumera Saeed
Nov 02, 2023
ADVERTISEMENT

Comparison Chart

Reference

People only.
Things, ideas, actions.
Sumera Saeed
Nov 02, 2023

Function

Identifies or inquires about persons.
Asks for information or specifies something.
Sumera Saeed
Nov 02, 2023

Sentence Role

Subject or object referring to people.
Subject or object referring to non-people.
Sumera Saeed
Nov 02, 2023

Grammatical Number

Can refer to singular or plural.
Can refer to singular or plural.
Harlon Moss
Nov 02, 2023

Example Question

"Who is your friend?"
"What is your favorite book?"
Sumera Saeed
Nov 02, 2023
ADVERTISEMENT

Who and What Definitions

Who

Asks for the subject in a sentence concerning people.
Who wants pizza?
Sara Rehman
Nov 02, 2023

What

Used to inquire about the nature or identity of something.
What is this device used for?
Aimie Carlson
Nov 02, 2023

Who

Used to inquire about the identity of a person.
Who wrote this poem?
Aimie Carlson
Nov 02, 2023

What

Asks for the object or subject in a sentence concerning non-people.
What is the capital of France?
Sumera Saeed
Nov 02, 2023

Who

Pronoun used to ask about people.
Who is at the door?
Huma Saeed
Nov 02, 2023

What

Requests specification or information.
What kind of music do you like?
Aimie Carlson
Nov 02, 2023

Who

Determines the relationship or role of a person.
Who is the president of the club?
Sumera Saeed
Nov 02, 2023

What

Pronoun used to ask about things or information.
What is your name?
Huma Saeed
Nov 02, 2023

Who

Pronoun replacing people previously mentioned.
I know who stole the cookies.
Sumera Saeed
Nov 02, 2023

What

Used to introduce a clause or phrase.
I wonder what he will do next.
Sumera Saeed
Nov 02, 2023

Who

(interrogative) What person or people; which person or people; asks for the identity of someone; used in a direct or indirect question.
Who is that? (direct question)
I don't know who it is. (indirect question)
Sumera Saeed
Jan 21, 2023

What

Which one or ones of several or many
What college are you attending? You should know what musical that song is from.
Sumera Saeed
Jan 21, 2023

Who

(relative) Introduces a relative clause having a human antecedent.
Sumera Saeed
Jan 21, 2023

What

Whatever
They soon repaired what damage had been done.
Sumera Saeed
Jan 21, 2023

FAQs

Can 'who' and 'what' be used interchangeably?

No, 'who' is specific to people while 'what' is used for objects, concepts, or actions.
Huma Saeed
Nov 02, 2023

How does 'who' function in a sentence?

'Who' functions as a pronoun representing people, either as a subject or an object.
Sumera Saeed
Nov 02, 2023

Is 'who' used in questions only?

While often used in questions, 'who' can also be used in statements and relative clauses.
Harlon Moss
Nov 02, 2023

Can 'what' start a question and a statement?

Yes, 'what' can start both questions and statements.
Janet White
Nov 02, 2023

How do you respond to a question starting with 'who'?

You respond with the name of a person or people involved.
Harlon Moss
Nov 02, 2023

What is the difference between 'who' and 'what'?

'Who' refers to persons, and 'what' refers to things, ideas, or actions.
Sumera Saeed
Nov 02, 2023

Can 'what' refer to a person?

Generally, no. 'What' is not used to refer to a person.
Janet White
Nov 02, 2023

In what scenarios is 'what' the appropriate pronoun to use?

Use 'what' when referring to objects, events, or concepts, not people.
Sumera Saeed
Nov 02, 2023

Are there any exceptions to using 'who' only for people?

Typically, no. 'Who' is always used to refer to human beings.
Sara Rehman
Nov 02, 2023

What does 'what' often signify in a question?

'What' signifies a request for information or specifics about something.
Aimie Carlson
Nov 02, 2023

Can 'what' be used to ask about a person's profession?

No, 'who' is used for asking about professions, as in "Who is a doctor?"
Janet White
Nov 02, 2023

Does 'what' have a different form when used in different cases?

No, 'what' remains the same in all cases.
Janet White
Nov 02, 2023

Do 'who' and 'what' change forms depending on the case?

'Who' can change to 'whom' or 'whose' for object or possessive cases; 'what' does not change.
Janet White
Nov 02, 2023

What is the possessive form of 'who'?

The possessive form of 'who' is 'whose.'
Sara Rehman
Nov 02, 2023

Can 'what' imply a choice from a range of options?

Yes, 'what' can imply selection, as in "What flavor do you want?"
Sumera Saeed
Nov 02, 2023

Can 'who' be used for animals?

It's uncommon but can be used anthropomorphically, especially for pets.
Sara Rehman
Nov 02, 2023

Can 'who' and 'what' be used in indirect questions?

Yes, both can be used in indirect questions, as in "I asked who was calling" and "I wondered what was for dinner."
Janet White
Nov 02, 2023

What type of pronoun is 'who'?

'Who' is an interrogative pronoun when asking questions and a relative pronoun in clauses.
Aimie Carlson
Nov 02, 2023

Is 'who' used for singular or plural?

'Who' can be used for both singular and plural references to people.
Sumera Saeed
Nov 02, 2023

How do you respond to a question starting with 'what'?

You provide the requested information or name of a thing or concept.
Sumera Saeed
Nov 02, 2023
About Author
Written by
Sumera Saeed
Sumera is an experienced content writer and editor with a niche in comparative analysis. At Diffeence Wiki, she crafts clear and unbiased comparisons to guide readers in making informed decisions. With a dedication to thorough research and quality, Sumera's work stands out in the digital realm. Off the clock, she enjoys reading and exploring diverse cultures.
Edited by
Huma Saeed
Huma is a renowned researcher acclaimed for her innovative work in Difference Wiki. Her dedication has led to key breakthroughs, establishing her prominence in academia. Her contributions continually inspire and guide her field.

Trending Comparisons

Popular Comparisons

New Comparisons