I was filling out an application form, when I had noticed this sentence:

If bilingual, please provide in what languages.

If I was writing this, I'd form it as which languages, instead of what languages. Is the sentence above correct?

  • Hmmm. I'd say that there's a bigger question, which is, is the statement structured correctly? I would have said something like, 'If Bilingual, please list the respective languages'. I'm a copywriter so, while we're not always the best academic English writers, we're trained that, sometimes, beyond grammar and word usage, there are better ways to make sentences flow and sound less 'clunky'. – Warren van Rooyen Oct 4 '12 at 20:08
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    @Warren, your example misuses the word respective. I agree that what vs which is an insignificant question here, as either can be used. More important: "provide in" is defective ("specify in" or "specify" would be better) and "Bilingual" should be lower case and "multilingual" – James Waldby - jwpat7 Oct 4 '12 at 20:24
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    I'd suggest applying somewhere different. Regardless of whether it's an application to enter a country, work for a company, or join a club, do you really want to get involved with illiterates who would write such gibberish on an "official" form? Apart from the points raised by @Warren above, since when was it appropriate to capitalise "Bilingual" in such contexts? Not for at least a couple of centuries, I suggest. – FumbleFingers Oct 4 '12 at 20:39
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    I like which as well. But I really would prefer "If you are a polyglot, in which languages are you fluent?" mostly because I like the word polyglot. – mikeY Oct 4 '12 at 20:44

According to The American Heritage Dictionary entry for what, the sentence is correct.

adj. 1. which one or ones of several or many: What college are you attending? You should know what musical that song is from.

However, my preference (like yours) would be "If bilingual, please list in which languages." Just because I think it sounds better.

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