Interrogative Adjectives – Which Words Come to Mind?

whatBefore we get into interrogative adjectives, let’s take a step back. When you think of an “adjective” what is the first thought that comes to mind?  Yellow flowers?  A beautiful sunset? A fast car?  In the preceding examples, the role the adjectives “flower,” “beautiful,” and “fast” is attributive, meaning they modify or describe a noun (or a pronoun). They paint a nice picture in our mind.

She filled the vase with yellow flowers.

A beautiful sunset marked the end of a perfect day.

John didn’t care what he received for graduation as long as it was a fast car.

Sometimes adjectives are found in the predicate of a sentence.  In this case the adjective describes a preceding noun and is linked to it with a verb.  Like this:

The flowers in the vase are yellow.

The sunset was beautiful.

The car John received for his birthday was fast, just like he wanted.

Though these examples may be the first type of adjective use you think of, there are certainly other, and equally important, kinds of adjectives as well.

Interrogative adjectives are words similar to interrogative pronouns, but they can’t stand on their own.  In other words, they serve to modify another term, specifically a noun.  The words “which” and “what” are the two interrogative adjectives and are used in interrogative sentences to modify nouns found in the question.

Which coat is Paul’s? (“which” is an interrogative adjective that modifies coat)

What CD is Sarah listening to? (“what” is an interrogative adjective that modifies CD)

Interrogative adjectives also modify noun phrases.  For example:

Which vitamins should be taken every day?

What program are you watching?

In the first example “which vitamins” is the subject of the verb phrase “should be taken.”

In the second example “what program” is the direct object of the verb phrase “are watching.”

More sentence examples of interrogative adjectives

  • Which book on gardening do you recommend?
  • What assignment are you working on now?
  • Which team scored the highest points in the academic bowl?
  • What recipe made the finals in the cook off?

The important point to keep in mind is that interrogative adjectives stand for the thing we do not know.

Which coat is Paul’s?

Here we want to know specifically the coat that belongs to Paul.

What CD is Sarah listening to?

Here we want to know specifically the CD that Sarah is listening to.

Examples of “what” and “which” used NOT as interrogative adjectives

Remember, the interrogative adjectives “what” and “which” are used to ask a question.  But just because you see these two words in a sentence ending in a question mark, don’t assume they are interrogative adjectives.  They could be interrogative pronouns.

What are you doing this weekend?

Which is Karen’s mother?

The above are examples of “what” and “which” used in the pronoun form. In these two cases, the words are NOT used as adjectives.

As long as “what” or “which” modify a noun or pronoun, and is found in an interrogative sentence, identifying them in a sentence is a simple task!

More articles about sentence types