English wh- question and its Vietnamese equivalence Running head: wh-question

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English WH- question and its Vietnamese equivalence

Running head: WH-question

English WH- question and its Vietnamese equivalence

A contrastive analysis

Pham Thi Kim Loan

Class 4B.08

HCM University of pedagogy

Professor : Bui Nguyen Khanh

September 15, 2011

In communicative process in all languages all over the world, question plays an important role in daily life. It is so hard for us to keep communication going well without asking questions. People may ask for information or for confirmation whether the statement is true or not or denial of a statement. It is no doubt that questions can not be missed in communication. There are a lot of types of question: yes-no question, wh-question, alternative question, tag question… but in this paper I would like to devote all my interest in wh-question in English and its equivalence in Vietnamese in order to get more understanding of this type of question and I am able to use it more flexibly and fluently.

According to Quirk (1976:192), wh-questions are those that expect a reply supplying an item of information.

Ex: What is your name?

How old are you?

The paper also points out and analyses the similarities and differences between English wh-questions and its Vietnamese equivalence in terms of how to make question and interrogative pronouns(Q-words). Then some implications for language teaching and learning are discussed. From my knowledge and experience, I will go deep into this matter in a hope of assisting to help people who are interested in the subject matter have deeper look in two language systems: Vietnamese and English.

WH-question in English

WH-questions are called information or open questions because the answer to the question requires more than just a Yes- or- No answer. Most Wh-questions are formed with interrogative words or phrases that start with the letters “Wh”, and they usually end with falling intonation. Quirk (1976:196) points out that Wh-question is formed with the aid of one of the following interrogative pronouns: what, when, where, which, who/whom, whose, why, how, how many, how much, how long,

Question words




asking for information about something

What is your name?


asking about time

When did you leave?


asking about place or position

Where do you live?


asking for information about one of a limited number of things.

Which color do you like?


asking about someone’s identity.

Who stole your car?


asking about someone’s identity. (object)

Whom did you see yesterday?


asking about ownership

Whose are these books?


asking for reason

Why do you say that?


asking about manner, way or method in which something is done.

How does she look like?

How many+ countable noun

How much+ uncountable noun

asking about quantity

How many books do you have?

How much money do you have?

How long

asking about length (time or space)

How long did you stay in Ha Noi?

Question word (Q-word) + auxiliary verb + verb?


Foley (2008: 97) presents that when who, what, which function as the subject of clause, we don’t use auxiliary verbs and the order of words is like the statement.

Ex: Who telephoned you last night?

What will happen next?

Which bus goes to the city center?

Moreover, verb be also goes before the subject in questions.

Ex: Where is your car?

What is that noise?

When Wh- question asks about anything in the predicate, insert a wh- word and then manipulate the word order by moving that wh- word to the beginning and moving the operator in front of the subject.

Ex: What did you buy?

What, which and whose can be followed with or without a noun.

Ex: What time is it? = What is the time?
Which coat is yours? = Which is your coat?
Whose pen is this? = Whose is this pen?

Whom can only be used to ask about information of the object of the sentence. Despite using whom would be grammatically correct, who is normally used instead.

Ex: "Whom did you see yesterday?" = "Who did you see yesterday?"

According to Foley (2008: 97), who, what, which and whose can all be used to ask about information of either the subject or object of the sentence.

Ex: What made you cry?

What did you buy?

WH-question equivalence in Vietnamese

Vietnamese equivalence of English Wh- question is the kind of question using Q-words.

Ban (2002) presents that Vietnamese equivalence of Wh-questions are questions used to ask for the definite points of the sentence that contain Q-words.

In Vietnamese, Wh-question is formed with interrogative pronouns such as: ai (who/ whom), của ai (whose), cái gì/ (what), cái nào (which), khi nào (when), đâu, ở đâu (where), như thế nào, bằng cách nào (how), vì sao, tại sao (why), bao nhiêu (how much, how many), bao lâu (how long)…

Question words



Cái gì

asking for information about something

Anh tên gì?

Bao giờ

Lúc nào

Khi nào

asking about time

Anh đi khi nào?

Ở đâu

Chỗ nào

asking about place or position

Anh sống ở đâu?

Cái nào

asking for information about one of a limited number of things.

Anh thích màu nào?


asking about someone’s identity.

Ai lấy cắp xe của anh?

Anh gặp ai hôm qua?

Của ai

asking about ownership

Những cuốn sách này của ai?

Tại sao

Vì sao

asking for reason

Tại sao anh nói vậy?

Thế nào

Ra sao

Cách nào

asking about manner, way or method in which something is done.

Cô ta trông ra sao?

Bao nhiêu

asking about quantity

Anh có bao nhiêu cuốn sách?

Bao lâu

asking about length (time or space)

Anh ở Hà Nội bao lâu?

Q-word + V + O?

S + V + O + Q-word?

o form Wh-question in Vietnamese, two main structures are used:


The position of Vietnamese Q-words is very flexible. They can come first, jump in the middle or come at the end of the questions.

Ex: Ai đánh anh?

Hôm qua sao cậu không gọi tớ?

Anh đã đánh ai?

Words asking for reasons are usually put at the beginning of the sentences, have adverbial functions:

Ex: Em đi làm khi nào?

Words asking for means are usually located at the end of the sentences.

Ex: Anh đi học bằng phương tiện ?

Words asking for possession are usually placed at the end of the sentences.

Ex: Cuốn sách này là của ai?

Words asking for things are often at the end.

Ex: Mẹ anh viết?

Words asking about the manner, characteristics are at the end.

Ex: Lan là người thế nào?

Thiem (2004) presents in his book “Nghien cuu doi chieu cac ngon ngu” that in the questions asking about time, Q-words can combine with prepositions to express the moment or the starting time.

Ex: Vào lúc nào thì bộ phim bắt đầu?

Anh ta chơi bóng chuyền từ khi nào?

Anh yêu em từ bao giờ?
The similarities and differences between Vietnamese and English Wh-question

The similarity of the Q-words between English and Vietnamese is quite high.

In English, Wh-questions are formed with who(m), what, when, where, why, which, how,… while Vietnamese Wh-questions are constructed with their equivalence: ai, cái gì, khi nào, ở đâu, tại sao, cái nào,như thế nào,...

Q-word + V + O?

hen Q-word operates in function of subject, structure of Wh-question in both languages, English and Vietnamese is similar.


Ex: Who loves you?

Ai yêu anh?

What made you angry?

Điều gì làm anh giận?

Within this paper, I also would like to discuss the contrast between English and

Vietnamese Wh-question in two aspects: structures and Q-words.

The first difference accounts for the position of Q-words when Q-words isn’t the subject of the sentence any more, according to Ban (2002), Vietnamese interrogative words are located in the place of the word, which it replaces in the statement. It is not necessary to invert it to the beginning of the sentence like in English.

Ex: Anh là ai? – Tôi là bạn của Mai.

Anh cần ? – Tôi cần gặp Mai.

Who are you? – I’m Mai’s friend.

What do you need? – I need to see Mai.

In some cases, the interrogative word is inverted to the beginning of the sentence, or the word, which the interrogative pronoun replaces in the statement, is also inverted to the beginning of the sentence to emphasize.

Secondly, Vietnamese interrogative words asking about time (bao giờ, khi nào, ngày nào, hôm nào, lúc nào, thứ mấy, ngày bao nhiêu) refer to the past tense when placed at the end of questions and indicate the present or future tense when put at the beginning while when in English is always put at the beginning of the sentence regardless its tense.

Ex: Bao giờ anh ấy đến? (When will he arrive?)

  • Ngày mai

Anh ấy đến bao giờ? (When did he arrive?)

  • Hôm qua

Thirdly, in English, how is used to ask about the transportation; however in Vietnamese we use bằng gì (by what ).

Ex: How did you go HaNoi?

Anh đã HaNoi bằng gì?

Fourthly, this kind of question in English is not merely a means of requesting information, it has much more sense than other questions when going with “why” in negative question. It can be a suggestion, a complaint or a surprise.This kind of question can be rendered into Vietnamese by putting the interrogative pronouns “tại sao”, “vì sao ( mà)”, “tại làm sao”, “tại vì sao” “thế nào (mà)”, “bởi vì sao”, “sao mà”, “là sao”, “là thế nào”. These words can combine with “vì, do, tại, bởi” to show reasons.

Ex: Why don’t we go fishing now? (suggestion)

Why don’t they give her a lift? (Surprise)

Why didn’t you tell me about that problem? (Complaint)

Finally, in Vietnamese questions, we usually use particles “nhỉ, hả, sao, ư, ạ…” at the end of the questions to show the relationship between the speaker and the addressee or to express our attitude towards something. But in English, they can use intonation and stress to express attitude in the way that Vietnamese uses particles at the end of the questions. They also have intonation and stress patterns for meaning of questions.

Ex: Bác tên gì ?

Bao giờ anh về nhỉ?

Teaching implications

To some people, teaching and learning English is an easy task, but to others, it is really a hard-solving problem. The reason for any difficulties which these people encounter can be various, maybe they lack a “natural ability” to learn English or they do not have suitable methods for teaching and learning. Generally speaking, English Wh- questions are not the same as its Vietnamese equivalences, so for students, they must be aware of the structures as well as know how to use English Wh-question for different purposes. Therefore they need to practice a lot in order to be successful and effective in using English. Moreover, mistakes are inevitable during the learning process. Therefore, making mistakes is not strange, the important thing is that students can find the causes of those mistakes to correct them and try their best to avoid them.

The responsibilities of language teachers are to give lectures and help students to understand and use the language correctly and effectively. For each type of lessons, teachers can apply different teaching methods. Teachers should focus on structures and lexical devices when introducing English Wh-questions to Vietnamese learners. Moreover, teachers should not worry about the mistakes their students make, on the contrary, they should let their students know that the mistakes are common and unavoidable. Because no one can master everything, so do our students. Guiding students to correct the mistakes is more important and helpful. However, in order to achieve the success, it is necessary to have attempts of both teachers and learners.

In conclusion, English Wh-questions and its Vietnamese equivalence have some similarities and differences. As the result, they can cause some negative transfers for English learners. However, I has suggested some implications for teaching and learning languages, both English and Vietnamese with the hope that this paper will help the high school students much for further exploration in this subject matter and provide the language teachers with some helpful ideas for their teaching career.

Reference list

Ban, D. Q. (2002). Ngữ pháp Tiếng Việt (tập 2). HCM City: Education Publishing House.

English club. (2011). Wh- question words. Retrieved December 15th, 2011

from http:// www. englishclub.com/vocabulary/wh-question-words.htm

Foley, M. & Hall, D. (2008). Advanced learners' grammar. London: Longman.
Greenbaum, S. & Quirk, R. (1976). A university of grammar. London: Longman

Hand, L. (2011). Simple guide to asking questions in English. Retrieved December 15th, 2011 from http:// www. learnenglish.de/grammar/questiontext.htm

Thiem, L. Q. (2004). Nghien cuu doi chieu cac ngon ngu. Ha Noi: Ha Noi National University Publisher.

Tody. (2008). Learning through comparing English and Vietnamese question. Retrieved December 15th, 2011 from http://khoaanh.net/index.php?name=PNphpBB2&file=viewtopic&p=491

Vietnamese learning. (2011). Vietnamese Wh- questions.Retrieved December 15th, 2011 from http://vietnamese-learning.com/98/vietnamese-wh-questions.

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