what or which?

17 replies
1 2
I sometimes have difficulty in deciding which determiner, which or what, to use for some sentential situations, like these.

What month is it? Which month is it?

What school are you attending now? Which school are you attending now?

The general guideline in respect to this seems to be that when there are several alternatives or there are several choices to choose from, it is likely that the use of the determiner "which" appropriate eventhough this particular situation doesn't negate the usage of the determiner "what."

Do you have some clear guidelines?
Contributing Member1,969
BelieverI sometimes have difficulty in deciding which determiner, which or what, to use for some sentential situations, like these.

What month is it? Which month is it?

What school are you attending now? Which school are you attending now?

The general guideline in respect to this seems to be that when there are several alternatives or there are several choices to choose from, it is likely that the use of the determiner "which" appropriate eventhough this particular situation doesn't negate the usage of the determiner "what."

Do you have some clear guidelines?
In your examples, "which" is "better", but "what" is used very commonly. Do not, however, try to say "which time is it", when asking for the time at the moment. In a situation where choice is important, you could say which: [I'm starting the party at 7:00 or 8:00; which works better for you?].
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1 comment what identifies.
which selects.

When there are a large number of possibilities that can be the answer, you are usually asking "what".
When there are a number of possibilities, usually a smaller number, known to the participants in the conversation, and under consideration, you are usually asking the listener to choose, and therefore asking "which".

-- What kind of pen do you usually use? (Identify)
-- Here's a blue pen. Here's a red pen. Which (pen) do you prefer? (Select)
-- What day is today? (Identify)
-- Tuesday or Friday? I've forgotten. Which day did you say we were going out for pizza? (Select)

Insofar as we are sometimes indifferent to whether the situation emphasizes identification or selection more, there are many cases where the choice of "what" vs. "which" is likewise moot.

-- What planets are closer to the sun than the earth is? (Identify them.)
-- Which planets are closer to the sun than the earth is? (Select them - from your mental list of the planets)

CJ
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CalifJimwhat identifies.
which selects.
These are certainly the 'clear guidlines' that Believer asked for. Thanks!
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I agree. CalifJim judiciously selected and identified the essential elements and summarized in a couple-of-paragraph format. Outstanding, indeed.
Anonymous:
Clear and simple; very useful

Thanks
Anonymous:
Excellent, very clear.

Thanks.

Vivian
Anonymous:
Thank you for your help!
Anonymous:
How about this one:

"...shows images for which emails were sent and which were not."

Is that correct? Thanks.
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