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From the fact that many of the pronouns that are used at the beginning of such sentences such as what, when, which, who, and why begin with wh.[1]



wh-question (plural wh-questions)

  1. (chiefly linguistics) A question that is introduced by a wh-word (what, where, why, etc.) and cannot be answered by yes or no.
    Synonyms: open question, open-ended question
    Antonyms: polar question, multiple-choice question, yes-no question
    • 1968 April, Roger Brown, “The Development of Wh Questions in Child Speech”, in Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, volume 7, number 2, New York, N.Y.: Academic Press, DOI:10.1016/S0022-5371(68)80002-7, ISSN 0022-5371, OCLC 1783224, pages 280–281; quoted in Thomas E. Van Cantford; Beatrix T[ugendhut] Gardner; R. Allen Gardner, “Developmental Trends in Replies to Wh-questions by Children and Chimpanzees”, in R. Allen Gardner, Beatrix T. Gardner, and Thomas E. Van Cantford, editors, Teaching Sign Language to Chimpanzees, Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1989, →ISBN, page 198:
      In general each kind of Wh question calls for an answer which is an instance of a particular major sentence constituent.
    • 1970 July 22, Sara Regina Murphy, “Relative Clauses and Wh-questions”, in Semantic Interpretation of Deep Structure for Natural-language Computer Input (AFCRL; 70-526; Special Reports no. 104), Bedford, Mass.: Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratories, United States Air Force, OCLC 370726921, page 22:
      To answer a wh-question, a person usually examines the items described by the <+WH> noun phrase and tests the truth of the sentence for each item.
    • 1980, Petr Piťha, “Case Frames of Nouns”, in D. J. van Alkemade [et al.], editors, Linguistic Studies Offered to Berthe Siertsema, Amsterdam: Editions Rodopi, →ISBN, part I (Syntax and Semantics), page 91:
      On the semantic level we understand as obligatory those modifications about which the speaker has an important information so that he must be able to answer a wh-question formed by the listener in the case that there is an ellipsis of the given member of the sentence on the syntactic level. The necessity to be able to answer a wh-question is thus a criterion distinguishing obligatory and optional modifications.
    • 1985, James W. Gair, “Focused Sentences: Naturalization of a Calque”, in Barbara C. Lust, editor, Studies in South Asian Linguistics: Sinhala and Other South Asian Languages, New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, published 1998, →ISBN, part IV (Change, Grammaticization, and Linguistic Area), page 168:
      Note that one cannot describe such basic processes as yes–no question and WH-question formation, negation, or the use of emphatic particles in Sinhala without involving focusing, [...]
    • 1988, James D[avid] McCawley, “Interrogative Clauses”, in The Syntactic Phenomena of English, volume 2, Chicago, Ill.; London: University of Chicago Press, →ISBN, page 464:
      In the preceding chapters, I have tentatively adopted an analysis for yes-no and WH-questions (aside from multiple WH-questions, as in (1b′), which have not been taken up yet) on the following lines: [...] [T]he S of that structure has the same form as the deep structure of a corresponding declarative sentence, except that the structure underlying a WH-question such as (1b) has a WH-expression in place of one of the constituents that could occur in a corresponding declarative; [...]
    • 2015, Larissa Pöltl, “Task Cycle”, in Teaching Speaking. Wh-questions (Englisch 6. Klasse Gymnasium): Lesson Plan, Munich: GRIN Publishing, →ISBN, section 1.1 (Theoretical Background), pages 1–2:
      The language focus of our lesson were the wh-questions. To form them, a wh-question word needs to move to the clause-initial position: What will you buy? This is also the case in German: Was wirst du kaufen?
    • 2015, Lidia Tanaka, “Nourishing the Friendship: Questions in Friends’ Talk”, in Japanese Questions: Discourse, Context and Language, London; New York, N.Y.: Bloomsbury Academic, Bloomsbury Publishing, →ISBN, page 125:
      One of the aspects particular to friend talk in Japanese is that the speech is in informal style, and while as in any other interactions there are style shifts, these are very limited and strategically accomplished. In informal style questions the ka question particle is omitted and interrogativity is mainly accomplished through intonation and Wh-question words.

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