Wh- Questions: What Are Open Questions? Definition and Examples

By Carly Forsaith, updated on April 4, 2023

WH questions - also known as open questions - are one of two types of questions. Would you like to know what they look like and how to formulate them? If so, read on.

In short:

  • Open questions are the type of questions where the person responding can answer whatever they want.

What Are WH- Questions?

Questions are one of five types of sentences in English. And there are two types of questions - open and closed.

Open questions are sometimes also called WH questions because they mostly begin with WH words:

  • What
  • Who
  • When
  • Where
  • Whom
  • Whose
  • Why

And there’s a ‘how’ - a ‘w’ word, but a question word nonetheless.

Open questions allow the person responding to say whatever they want. This differs from closed questions, where the respondent can only answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or choose from a range of provided options (multiple-choice questionnaires, for instance).

Here’s an example of an open question:

Where would you like to go for lunch?

And here’s an example of a closed question:

Would you like to have lunch?

The second question can only be answered by ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ but the first question has many possible responses, which is what makes it an open question.

How to Form WH- Questions

If you want to ask open questions, you’ll need to know how to formulate them. That’s what we’ll look into now. There are two ways to make an open question, and it’ll depend on whether it contains an auxiliary verb or not.

Questions With Auxiliary Verbs

Auxiliary verbs -

  • Known as helping verbs.
  • Support the main verb in the sentence.

Open questions with auxiliary verbs look a little something like this:

Where do you usually eat lunch?

‘Do’ is the auxiliary verb, and ‘eat’ is the main verb. From the sentence above, you can see that the structure for a WH question with an auxiliary verb is:

WH Word + Auxiliary Verb + Subject + Main Verb

And then add in other words relevant to the sentence where it’s appropriate.

  • You can also create a WH question with a modal verb using the same formula, but you replace the auxiliary verb with a modal verb.

For example:

Where should we go for lunch?

‘Should’ is the auxiliary verb, and ‘go’ is the main verb.

Questions With No Auxiliary Verb

Questions without an auxiliary verb have a slightly different layout. The general formula goes like this:

WH Word + Verb

And add in any other relevant words after that. Here’s an example of what that might look like:

Who sent me these flowers?

Examples of WH- Questions

So now we understand the basic structure for open questions, let’s take a look at some examples. I’ll show examples of open questions with and without auxiliary verbs, with and without modal verbs, and using all the different ‘WH words.’

What cured your hiccups in the end?

Who wants to hear a funny story?

When do you finish high school?

Where shall we wait for you?

Whom are you here with?

Whose pear is this?

Why do you check on me every five minutes?

How do you heal so fast? What’s your secret?

Concluding Thoughts

That concludes this article on open or WH questions. I hope you found it helpful.

Here’s what we learned:

  • There are two types of questions: open (WH questions) and closed.
  • There are two different formulas for asking open questions: one for sentences with auxiliary (and modal) verbs and one for sentences without.

If you found this article helpful, head on over to our Grammar Rules blog, where you’ll find lots more like this.

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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