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'what' vs. 'which'


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'what' vs. 'which' #1 (permalink) Sun Aug 20, 2006 17:09 pm   'what' vs. 'which'
 

English Grammar Tests, Elementary Level

ESL/EFL Test #93 "Why Questions", question 1

......... countries have a coastline on the Mediterranean Sea?

(a) What
(b) Which
(c) Where
(d) Who

English Grammar Tests, Elementary Level

ESL/EFL Test #93 "Why Questions", answer 1

Which countries have a coastline on the Mediterranean Sea?

Correct answer: (b) Which

Your answer was: incorrect
What countries have a coastline on the Mediterranean Sea?
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what is the difference between "what" and "which"
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Which vs. what #2 (permalink) Mon Aug 21, 2006 14:38 pm   Which vs. what
 

.
Which is preferred when there are a limited number of available options.
.
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'what' vs. 'which' #3 (permalink) Fri Jul 03, 2009 7:44 am   'what' vs. 'which'
 

Oh. It sounds so odd for me. If question "What year did Prince Charles of England marry? " has a wide range of possible answers (really, somebody can say it was in 575 B.C. or 2097 A.D.), why does question about countries begin with "which"? We can choose from about 200 countries, is it not a wide choice?
It seems to me that some combinations of Why Questions must be learned just by heart, without the support of logic :)
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'what' vs. 'which' #4 (permalink) Fri Jul 03, 2009 8:04 am   'what' vs. 'which'
 

No, it is your logic that is failing here. You must use common sense in English just as you do in your own language.

Only a limited number of countries border on the Mediterranean. Any intelligent person would not consider China or Madagascar or Australia-- the problem concerns only Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Portugal, etc., that is, countries that someone whose geography is poor might or might not think border on that sea.

Similarly, any reasonably intelligent person knows that Prince Charles is now alive and married Diana (1980?) and then Camilla (2005?) in the recent past. We do not consider the whole range of dates in history or all the countries in the world when choosing 'which' or 'what'.
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'what' vs. 'which' #5 (permalink) Fri Jul 03, 2009 8:43 am   'what' vs. 'which'
 

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Hi Vermilion,

Both 'what' and 'which' are used to start questions but the difference is that 'what' is indefinite and 'which' suggests that the questioner has some idea of the choices possible.

If I ask: What book are you reading? it suggests I have no idea at all about the book, the author or the subject.

If I ask: Which book are you reading? it suggests either we have previously talked about the author or I have some idea of the kind of books you are reading.

In the test question 'which' is the preferred choice because as Charles has indicated in his answer above, there is a limited choice and a reasonable expectation that both parties to the question have some prior knowledge on the subject.

Alan
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'what' vs. 'which' #6 (permalink) Fri Jul 03, 2009 9:04 am   'what' vs. 'which'
 

What/which movie is that song from?
What/which book is that dialogue from?


Which word fits better in the above sentences? If I were to ask them in a quiz, which one would be better? If I was talking to a friend of mine, who I know would know the answer, which one would be better to use?
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'what' vs. 'which' #7 (permalink) Fri Jul 03, 2009 9:08 am   'what' vs. 'which'
 

If you thought your friend would know the answer, 'which' is grammatically more appropriate. Note, however, that in spoken English, few or no native speakers pause to consider; one or the other interrogative adjective will just pop out-- and probably with about equal frequency.
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'what' vs. 'which' #8 (permalink) Sat Jul 04, 2009 8:12 am   'what' vs. 'which'
 

Hi Mister Micawber.

What a pity, evidently, I'm not intelligent I do not know an year of Prince Charles' marriages, and answering the question about the Mediterranean Sea I would have to turn a greater quantity of countries over in my mind. For me situations of choice of two tens years and of two tens countries are equivalent.

It's definitely not an accusation against English. I don't know, may be it's even a compliment. There are a lot of expression in English, in Russian, in Japanese, and in any other language that must be just memorized, because the language is living, artistic and inspired creature by its nature, it operates both with images and logic; and if I wanted straight lines and accurate angles I would be occupied with technical drawing rather than with philology.

I just tried to share my difficulties.

And to practice in writing English, of course :)

Hi Alan,

thank you for answer. When it is talked of books, or cats, or clouds, or any particular things I really see the difference between what and which, but with measuring time (years) and space (countries) I am at a deadlock. But owing to your test now I know my weak spots! And will work on it.
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hi #9 (permalink) Fri Mar 26, 2010 8:39 am   hi
 

What/which movie is that song from?
What/which book is that dialogue from?

Give me the exact answers with logic.

In case of countries ,you are using "which " and with the same concept in case of example of year,you are using "what" .

Quite starnge !!
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'what' vs. 'which' #10 (permalink) Fri Mar 26, 2010 8:59 am   'what' vs. 'which'
 

Hi,

The difference between 'what' and 'which' in your examples is really a matter of whether you already know something about the book or the music. When I ask: What book are you reading? I have no idea at all about the book, the subject matter or the author. When I ask: Which book are you reading? I have some idea of the sort of book you are reading. In other words 'what' is less definite than 'which'.

Alan
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'what' vs. 'which' #11 (permalink) Sun Jan 09, 2011 11:03 am   'what' vs. 'which'
 

Thanks for this clarification, I also got confused on these words. I am working in Middle East and most often, people here are using "Which" in every questions regarding choices.

Ex: Which company are you calling?
Which date are you going to return?
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'what' vs. 'which' #12 (permalink) Fri Jan 14, 2011 23:15 pm   'what' vs. 'which'
 

I have a question too, similar to the above one. In case I need to point out something out of something:
eg." The book what is on the shelf" or " the cat which is on the tree" or "the answer that seamed to be the best!"
I used what, which and that in these senteces just without knowing which one is the correct one! I hope it makes sence. Thanks for any answers.
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'what' vs. 'which' #13 (permalink) Fri Jan 14, 2011 23:17 pm   'what' vs. 'which'
 

You cannot use 'what' in that way. You can use 'which' or 'that'. 'That' is much more common and natural.
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'what' vs. 'which' #14 (permalink) Sat Jan 15, 2011 19:09 pm   'what' vs. 'which'
 

Will you please say which is correct:
-Which page is it? (which page shall I open a book at?)
-What page is it? (what page shall I open a book at?)
Than u!
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'what' vs. 'which' #15 (permalink) Sat Jan 15, 2011 23:35 pm   'what' vs. 'which'
 

Both are correct.
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