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What or which/help

Forum > English only || Bottom

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What or which/help
Message from maralife posted on 31-07-2014 at 14:26:45 (D | E | F)
Hello,
What languages can you speak? OR which languages can you speak? I don't know know which one to use.
Thank you for any reply.

-------------------
Edited by lucile83 on 31-07-2014 16:23


Re: What or which/help from melmoth, posted on 31-07-2014 at 15:10:33 (D | E)
Hello Maralife,

I would say that 'what' selects elements from a large, potentially limitless set, and 'which' selects element from a restricted set.
Consequently both are possible, depending on the context.
If someone tells you he speaks several languages, you could ask: What languages can you speak? (selecting potentially all languages).
Now if you visit someone's place, and you see he owns grammars of Icelandic, Persian, Tibetan, Quechua, German, you marvel and you could have the following dialogue:
- Wow, can you speak all those languages?
- Not all of them, actually.
- So, which languages can you speak? (selecting from the list of languages which he owns a grammar of).
Clearly in most cases you're going to use 'what'.
Cheers



Re: What or which/help from maralife, posted on 31-07-2014 at 20:10:58 (D | E)
So if you ask the question for the first time you ask: What languages can you speak?
and when she answers Italian, German and Spanish. You may ask: Which of them do you speak better? Right?



Re: What or which/help from melmoth, posted on 31-07-2014 at 20:51:44 (D | E)
Oui, c'est un bon exemple.



Re: What or which/help from violet91, posted on 01-08-2014 at 10:49:06 (D | E)
Hello ,
It may be a question of teaching , practice and level of language . I'd say I am not used at all to changing 'which' ( for an element of a whole category) into 'what '( mostly American and not considered as purely grammatical , as far as I am concerned ; on the other hand , I was told and noticed myself there is a touch of rudeness in the use of what, in some cases . ).
One of my British friends who is an English teacher would not use one for the other , either , which doesn't exclude what is said above and that I didn't hear people doing so in UK . ( streets ,stores , shops ...every day life ...) .
Have a nice day .




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