Types of question words
Question words belong to one of three word classes: pronouns, adverbs and pronominal adverbs. Click on the links to read more about these three word classes. Here we will just discuss some characteristics of the specific question words. Question words are also called interrogatives.
There are three interrogative ponouns: wie, wat and welk(e).
wie = who(m)
Wie heeft de Tour de France dit jaar gewonnen? (subject)
Who has won the Tour de France this year?
Wie nodig je uit voor je verjaardag? (object)
Who(m) are you inviting for your birthday?
Wie can also follow a preposition:
Met wie ga je vanavond naar de film?
With who(m) are you going to the cinema tonight?
Wat staat hier? (subject)
What does it say here (lit. What stands here)?
Wat studeer je? (object)
What do you study?
Unlike wie, wat cannot follow a preposition. An interrogative pronominal adverb is used instead.
welk(e) = which/what
A question with welk(e) is about a choice from a range of available alternatives and is followed by a noun. The ending is dependent on the gender: welk before a het-word, and welke before a de-word (including plurals). It acts like an adjective in this way. The phrase with welk(e) can again function as subject or object, or follow a preposition.
Welk boek is van jou? (subject)
Which book is yours?
Welke vrienden heb je uitgenodigd voor je verjaardag? (object)
Which friends have you invited for your birthday?
Met welke tram gaan we naar de stad?
With which tram are we going into town?
The four most frequent types of adverb are adverbs of time, manner, place and reason.
Wanneer is the interrogative adverb of time par excellence.
Wanneer beginnen de tentamens?
When are the exams starting?
However, wanneer? is quite general and you can also ask more precise questions.
Hoe laat begint het tentamen?
At what time does the exam start?
Op welke dag beginnen de tentamens?
On which day do the exams start?
The quintessential interrrogative manner adverb is hoe. Hoe can be used on its own:
Hoe doe je dat?
How do you do that?
but also in combination with an adjective:
Hoe goed is die docent?
How good is that teacher?
Hoe in combination with an adjective goes beyond manner; it can ask after any kind of quality (see also hoe laat …? above):
Hoe mooi is die stad?
How pretty is that town?
The interrogative adverb of place is waar:
Waar woon je?
Where do you live.
On its own waar asks after a location. To ask after a direction it combines with naartoe or heen. There is little difference between these two alternatives, but naartoe is usually separated from waar, whereas heen can either follow waar immediately (and they are then written as one word) or seperate from it:
Waar gaan we vandaag naartoe?
where are we going today?
Waarheen ga je op vakantie?
Waar ga je op vakantie heen?
Where are you going on holiday?
Waarom heb je dat gedaan?
Why have you done that?
Waarom zou dat zo zijn?
Why would that be so?
Waardoor asks about a natural or external cause:
Waardoor is die brug ingestort?
Why has that bridge collapsed?
Interrogative pronominal adverbs are combinations of waar with a preposition. Like wat, interrogative pronominal adverbs ask questions about objects. They occur either separated, with waar at the beginning of the question and the preposition at the end, or together at the beginning of the question (and they are then written as one word):
Waar houd je van?
Waarvan houd je?
What do you like?
Waar gaat dat boek over?
Waarover gaat dat boek?
What is that book about?
Waar hebben studenten geen geld voor?
Waarvoor hebben studenten geen geld?
What can students not afford (literally: what do students not have money for)?
Waar heb je zin in?
Waarin heb je zin?
What do you fancy?