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‘Who’, ‘What’, ‘When’… Interrogative Words Rated out of Ten

Read Monday, 9 Oct 2017

Some questions are great (‘Would you like a burger?’). Some are terrible (‘Where shall we bury you?’). In many cases, they start with interrogative words such as ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’ and ‘when’. But which of these words offers the best value?

As we count down to The Festival of Questions at Melbourne Town Hall this weekend, Sophie Quick prepared this handy guide, including ratings out of 10.

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Favoured by genealogists, pollsters and detectives, ‘who’ is also handy for drawing home intruders into conversation (‘Who’s there?’ etc). Murmur ‘who’ softly and repeatedly at Middle-C for an excellent pigeon impression.


Ugly but versatile, ‘what’ is your go-to interrogative pronoun when getting to know someone whose species is not immediately apparent. ‘What are you?’ is a nice way to start when you’re chatting with rocks, plants and bacteria.


Strictly for nerdy historians and uptight volcanologists, ‘when’ is not useful for normal people. Never use this word in an English-speaking country if someone is pouring you a drink. They will leave you thirsty and that is the least you deserve.


Useful for surgeons and pilots, ‘where’ is also pretty handy if you ever need to meet anyone in person at a physical location.


This dreamy bad-boy is the best of the best. The ability to wonder is what sets human beings apart from the rest of the animal kingdom! For best results, utter slowly, deeply and gravely. Work those eyebrows.


Maybe you think ‘how’ is the token H-word in the W-normative world of interrogative words. Well, you are a bozo. ‘How’ is a punishing taskmaster, pressing for details, drilling down into the nitty-gritty. It’s no coincidence that ‘how’ rhymes with ‘wow’. 


The Festival of Questions, on 15 October, is one full day of thoughtful, quick-witted and exhilarating discussions at Melbourne Town Hall.


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