Which vs. What

There is little difference of meaning between which and what.

  • Which/what is the largest continent in the world?
  • Which/what train did you come on?

Which is preferred when the speaker has a limited number of choices in mind.

  • We have got white and brown bread. Which will you have?
  • Which colour do you want – red, pink, blue or purple?

When the speaker is not thinking of a limited number of choices, what is used.

  • What is your telephone number? (NOT Which is your phone number?)
  • What language do they speak in Chile? (More natural than Which language …)

Before nouns, which and what can be used to ask questions about both people and things.

  • Which teacher do you like best?
  • What writers do you like?
  • Which colour do you want – red or brown?

When these words are used as pronouns, without nouns immediately after them, we use who, not which, for people.

  • Who is your favourite writer? (NOT Which is your favourite writer?)
  • Who won – Alan or Peter? (NOT Which won …)

However, which can be used in questions about people’s identity, and what can be used to ask about people’s jobs and functions.

  • Which is your boy?’ ‘The one blue shirt.’
  • What is your husband?’ ‘He is a doctor.’
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Manjusha Nambiar

I am the founder and editor of http://www.perfectyourenglish.com, http://www.ielts-practice.org, and http://ncertguides.com

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