Wikipedia has a nice history article on the 5 question words beginning with "Wh" namely,

Who, What, Where, When, and Why

But nothing on the word "Which." Could this be just tradition?

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    The article which I think you are referring to says ; "The Five Ws (sometimes referred to as Five Ws and How, 5W1H, or Six Ws)[1] are questions whose answers are considered basic in information gathering or problem solving. They are often mentioned in journalism" There are a host of interrogative words...including which. Commented Dec 13, 2020 at 17:45
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    @KateBunting - Yep: goodreads.com/quotes/…
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Dec 13, 2020 at 18:01
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    "Which" seems supplemental in that it presupposes that the answer to "What" is ambiguous. In other words, if "What" (and perhaps "Who" and "Where" and the others) are answered clearly, then there's typically no need to ask "Which". Commented Dec 13, 2020 at 18:29
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    Wikipedia is not an authoritative source on grammar. Why they left which out of their survey could no doubt be answered by an author. There are considerable grammar differences between which and the other wh-words, but that's true of all of them. By the way, did they include whether among the wh-words? They should have. Commented Dec 13, 2020 at 21:10
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    @psmears Wh-words come from PIE *kʷ-words, and constitute part of an old paradigm in English. They include whither and whence, the PIE *t-words include thither and thence, and the PIE *k-words include hither and hence. There was a lot of stuff going on. Commented Dec 15, 2020 at 17:27

2 Answers 2


Wikipedia is not an authoritative source on grammar, as John Lawler has pointed out. That said, it can be useful to point in the general direction for research.

Also, as Hot Licks mentioned, Kipling seems to be in the equation.

I keep six honest serving-men,
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

However, the origin of the 5(6) Ws goes back to Latin "7 Qs"…in which the English Wh word is usually a Latin Qu…

Quis = Who

Quid = What

Cur = Why

Ubi = Where

Quando = When

Quem ad modem = How

Quibus ad miniculis = With what...

“Which” in Latin is Quod, and that does not appear in the original list.

The original 7 Qs were important in the discussion of ethics. Thomas Aquinas attributed them to Aristotle. More recently, they have been considered one of the basic tenets of effective journalism.

So, while Kipling may appear to be the origin of the selection, it is much older than that, and was probably included as part of the English public school (AmE private school) education. Kipling’s own education seems to have been a bit spotty; he probably picked up the idea from his mates at the newspapers he started his career with.

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    Latin is not my strong suit, so if anyone would like to offer constructive criticism go ahead...or even edit. Commented Dec 13, 2020 at 23:16
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    Note the prevalence of QU's in Latin and of WH's in English. This is not an accident. Both are derived from the same PIE roots, which started with *kʷ- for the most part. This persisted in Latin but Grimm's Law changed *kʷ to *hʷ in Germanic, which we eventually wound up spelling WH in Modern English (it was spelled HW in Old English). Commented Dec 14, 2020 at 14:57

Which means to

used in questions and structures in which there is a fixed or limited set of answers or possibilities) what one or ones

Hence, it would be a supplement to the other ones. If John bought a cat in Springfield, you could ask which John, which cat, and which Springfield.

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    Not to mention that if John bought a cat from a woman on a broomstick in Springfield, you could also ask which witch.
    – bmargulies
    Commented Dec 14, 2020 at 2:03
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    The question isn't about the way in which 'which' is used, rather about the reason/s for its non-inclusion in certain listings among other interrogative words (and 'how' is often considered a 'wh-word'). Commented Dec 14, 2020 at 16:34
  • … and whether it is even possible for a person to truly own a cat.    :-)    ⁠ Commented Dec 14, 2020 at 19:37

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