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As in title, can anyone tell me what lexical category the words 'who, what, why, where, when, how' are in?

Who are you? What are you? Why are you here? Where did you come from? When did you come? How is that possible?

I have read 'adverb', but there seems something unusual about them and that this isn't quite specific enough or necessarily correct.

Thank you

marked as duplicate by Edwin Ashworth, Hellion, Drew, Cascabel, curiousdannii Feb 13 '17 at 12:50

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  • Doubtless different people could suggest contradictory answers (possibly phrased so as to sound like you'd be silly to consider any alternative). – Edwin Ashworth Feb 12 '17 at 14:27
  • and what would you suggest? – J doh Feb 12 '17 at 14:32
  • I would call them "interrogatives". – RichF Feb 12 '17 at 14:34
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    McCawley (see the duplicate question) is usually analytically sound. Though others may well see this as a lumping too far. 'Interrogative words' or 'Wh-words' are favoured by splitters. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 12 '17 at 14:39
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    I don't see how 'who' 'what' 'where' act like adverbs, modifying verbs or adjectives. They seem more like pronouns (placeholders for other nouns (or sentences or adverbs). Are ther examples where these words modify adjectives or verbs? – Mitch Feb 12 '17 at 16:06
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All question words are not adverbs. They act as almost all of the parts of speech, except maybe as the verb.

From the Practical English Usage by Michael Swan:

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As interrogatives "wh-" words are adverbs. They are old in English, and probably pre-date any development of Germanic dialects from the first Indo-European speakers.
These words are clearly related to the Latin "qu-" interrogatives such as "quis" quem" Quos" etc. In fact one can replace the English "wh-" with the Latin "qu-" and still be understood in English:

Quere are you going? Quat is that? etc.

Like Latin, the words seem related to the relative pronouns "who", "whose" etc, and "qui" , "quae" , "Quod" for example, in Latin.
As these interrogatives relate to action or being, they are adverbs.
Without doubt these words existed as far back as one can discover in the history of English. They have provided a means of asking questions, and some will place them in a special class of adverbs. I think that is extreme, as one will eventually have a special class for each word in the language at some point, if the principle of "special" is carried forth .
It should be enough to know they are adverbs and how they should be used.

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    By way of evidence, can you propose an “adverb test” that adverbs pass yet other types of words fail, a test which these wh-question words also pass? That would provide evidence that these are in the same word class as adverbs; without such a test, people will doubt your conclusion. – tchrist Feb 12 '17 at 15:51
  • A snag is that 'Who/m did you hit?' Invites a DO rather than say a temporal expression for the answer. '*I hit Richardly' is a strong argument against lumping at least some of the wh-words into some adverb subclass. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 12 '17 at 16:02
  • Edwin Ashworth and tchrist-------I will suggest that there has been a confusion of "wh" adverbs with ;"wh" relative pronouns over many centuries------to the point that the confusion is all but codified with some words, such as "who", – J. Taylor Feb 12 '17 at 17:24
  • More-------"Whom" as far as I am concerned is not an interrogative. It is also a confusion. One should not ask: "To where are you going?", even if people might ask that.. If we do not classify the "wh" interrogatives as adverbs, then we must abandon rules in English or have a rule for each word, or, . completely abandon Graeco-Roman grammar as a model for English.I prefer the last. But this has not been done in any general sense. So, we are stuck with terms such as "adverb", which require use to exist. – J. Taylor Feb 12 '17 at 17:39
  • more---- As the "wh" interrogatives modify action or being, they will, I think, be adverbs until we no longer have adverbs.. – J. Taylor Feb 12 '17 at 17:40

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