What? Which? Who? We ask too many questions every day using the same question words. But there are even more question words in Russian. I’ll try to list them all with translation and transcription.
Что? [shtoh] – What?
Кто? [ktoh] – Who?
Как? [kak] – How?
Когда? [kag-da] – When?
Сколько? [skol-ka] – How many/ how much?
Почему? [pa-chee-moo] – Why?
Зачем? [za-chem] – Why? (What for?)
Чей? [chey] – Whose?
Куда? [koo-da] – Where to?
Откуда? [at-koo-da] – Where from?
Кому? [ka-moo] – To whom?
Чему? [che-moo] – To what?
Чем? [chem] – By what?
Кем? [kem] – By who?
О чём? [ah chyom] – About what?
О ком? [ah kom] – About whom?
Чего? [chee-vo] – What (Genitive case)?
Кого? [ka-vo] – Whom?
Какой? [ka-koy] – What? Which? What kind of?
Который? [ka-to-riy] – Which?
OMG. There are so many question words in Russian! I didn’t realize that until I wrote this list. But be calm for now, we start with basic question words.
First, I should explain the difference between “Почему?” and “Зачем?”, because they both mean why in English. It’s what you can find in the dictionary. But we distinguish these two words. Почему refers to English “why”, while зачем refers to “for what” or “what for”. Is it difficult to understand so far? OK, let me give you some examples.
Зачем (для чего) тебе эта ручка? – Why do you need this pen? (for what? what are you going to do with it?)
Зачем ты взял мой телефон? – Why did you take my phone? (for what purpose?)
Зачем мы здесь? – Why are we here? (for what? what are we going to do here?)
Почему ты не пришел? – Why didn’t you come?
Почему Земля круглая? – Why is the Earth round?
Почему у нас так мало денег? – Why do we have so little money?
All the other question words are not so difficult to use. You might notice that какой and который also have the same meaning. It’s almost true. But the word какой is much more common than который. In general, который means which (in a sequence). But it’s quite rarely used in speech. There is one phrase you might be familiar with: “Который час?” (What time is it?). However, it’s somewhat formal and we don’t use it in everyday speaking that much.
Now let’s look at some examples of sentences with these question words.
Что ты делаешь? – What are you doing?
Кто это? – Who is it?
Как ты сюда попал? – How did you get there?
Какой это этаж? – Which floor is it?
Какой у неё голос? – What kind of voice does she have?
Откуда ты приехал? – Where did you come from?
Откуда ты это знаешь? – How do you know this? (Note that we don’t use как [how] in this case, we use откуда [literally: where from?] instead).
Где это? – Where is it?
Куда ты идешь? – Where are you going? (direction)
О чём вы говорите? – What are you talking about?