I was going through this article. It describes WH-determiners, WH-adverbs and WH-pronouns. Below are examples for each from the article:


  • What book are you reading?
  • Which plane is he catching?
  • Whose jacket is this?
  • Which one would you like?
  • Which ones did Ruth want?


  • When will they arrive?
  • Where have you been?
  • How does this thing work?
  • Why are you saving your money?
  • How much does it cost?


  • Who can help me?
  • Whose is the new sports car outside?
  • Which was your best subject at school?
  • What happened next?

I was guessing whats the difference between them.

Q1. In the other words, can a WH-word play more than one role in the same sentence? I feel they are indeed mutually exclusive. That is, WH-word may behave either as WH-determiner or WH-adverb or WH-pronoun in any given sentence, but will never play more than one role in the same sentence. Am I correct with this?
Q2. Determiner starts the noun phrase. A pronoun is a word that is used instead of a noun or noun phrase. So I guess a WH-word wont behave as both determiner and pronoun in the same sentence, right?
Q3. I am not sure whether similar mutual exclusiveness exists between rest of the pairs: WH-determiner vs adverbs and WH-adverbs vs WH-pronouns.
Q4. Also there is clear overlap between categories: "where" is both WH-determiner and WH-adverb. Penn Treebank POS tagset has separate tags for all three:

  • WDT: Wh-determiner
  • WP: Wh-pronoun
  • WP$: Possessive wh-pronoun
  • WRB: Wh-adverb

So these tags meant to be / expected to be assigned to words based on the context / usage of WH-word in the sentence, right?

  • That article is not technical linguistics; it's intended for students looking things up. The terms and tags are strictly local to the source, and don't necessarily apply to any other system of nomenclature or analysis. The chances are good the terms were made up because students would have been indoctrinated with the usual incorrect definitions of terms and the authors might have thought this was clearer. Who knows?
    – jlawler
    Aug 28 '21 at 20:09
  • You mean to say the articles states information in casual / non-linguistic context? If yes, where can I find related accurate linguistic information. Still, want to know if my questions make sense? Or should I post this question to ell.stackexchange.com?
    – anir
    Aug 29 '21 at 8:46
  • You have it right, essentially. Those terms can be regarded as 'standard', though Huddleston & Pullum in CGEL claim that your wh adverbs are actually prepositions.
    – BillJ
    Aug 29 '21 at 10:43
  • There are the referential wh-words, like who and which, and there are the (I would call them "adverbial", informally) ones like where, when, why, how, which can have NP referents, but not to entities. It's primarily a semantic distinction, but it manifests in the syntax, which is predictably weird, since these are part of the grammar.
    – jlawler
    Aug 29 '21 at 14:50

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