I am asking for an explanation/description when to use "a/an" after "What" in a question, or why to omit "a/an".

When we are asking a general question we use "what" as a determiner:

  • What films do you like?
  • What university did you go to?
  • What dog do you have ?

I am wondering that there is no use of "a/an". For example :

"What a dog do you have" or "What a film did you watch ?"

Right now, i haven't found any information about this.(google,dict,grammar rules,study-books)

  • You can construct declarative statements using "what" and "a" together, e.g. "What a beautiful day" and "What an amazing view"
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Feb 23, 2018 at 23:48
  • "What kind of dog do you have?" "What kind of film did you watch?"
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Feb 23, 2018 at 23:49
  • Would it be absolutely incorrect to say: "What a dog do you have ?" ? That´s my question basically.
    – FrankMK
    Commented Feb 23, 2018 at 23:54
  • 1
    @FrankMK: Yes, absolutely incorrect.
    – KarlG
    Commented Feb 24, 2018 at 0:30
  • @FrankMK: Was für ein Hund = What kind/breed/type of dog?
    – KarlG
    Commented Feb 24, 2018 at 0:43

2 Answers 2


The "What" in the beginning of the question doesn't affect whether or not you should use "a" or "an." Grammatically speaking, the determining factor in whether you should use "a" or "an" depends on the word FOLLOWING the "a/an." For instance, you would use "a" if the next word started with a vowel (some exception, i.e. words that don't have a vowel as a first letter, but produce a vowel sound as the first syllable). Example: "What A wonderful day" or "What AN awesome day." Also, I feel like this thread should be bringing to attention the varying usage of "what" versus "which." It seems they're both getting thrown around interchangeably...

  • Yes, now there is light :-)
    – FrankMK
    Commented Feb 24, 2018 at 0:21
  • 2
    You've confused what as an interrogative and its use with exclamatory sentences.
    – KarlG
    Commented Feb 24, 2018 at 0:27
  • 2
    This does not explain why there isn't an article in questions beginning with "What", and "which" e.g. What doll would you like to buy? No article. Which book would you like to read? "Which orange do you want?" and "What time is it?" No articles. Why?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Feb 24, 2018 at 0:29
  • 1
    I’m very surprised that this was selected as the correct answer, because it does not even attempt to address the actual question. The difference between a and an is not relevant to the question at all, nor is the difference between what and which. The question is why interrogative what is never followed by indefinite articles in, and this answer doesn’t deal with that at all. @FrankMK, did you mean to accept Karl’s answer (which does address and answer the question) rather than this one? Commented Feb 24, 2018 at 0:36
  • Ok. Both answers, from KarlG and Laura Rys turned on the light in my understanding and the wrong way I was looking on that. But here it isn't possible to check 2 Answers. So I decided to be gentle. Looking on the rules of a/an E.G What a dogs do you have..doesn't work well.
    – FrankMK
    Commented Feb 24, 2018 at 0:49

The interrogative (question word) what functions as a determiner in such questions, which means that an indefinite article, also a determiner, cannot be used.

This might seem clearer in a sentence where the what doesn't come at the beginning and the answer is already known:

You want what topping on your ice cream? "What's wrong with pickle relish?"

You want a topping on your ice cream? "What toppings do you have?"

You want this topping on your ice cream? "No, I want that one."

What performs the same determinative function as a and this. You only need one of these words to let someone know what topping you're talking about.

Exception: in the idiom

What the hell is going on here?

the hell, although the is also a determiner, only functions as an interjected intensifier and doesn't affect the grammar of the sentence.

What may have confused you is that when what is used to begin an exclamatory sentence, the indefinite article will always come after what if the following noun is singular:

What a total mess! "What mess?" he asked, kicking through a pile of newspapers and a tin can.

What a great looking car! "What car? I don't see one in the street."

What a stupid mistake I've made! "What mistake did you make?

What a beautiful bouquet of roses! What roses? Those are carnations.

When the noun is plural, the noun has no article:

What gorgeous flowers!

  • Yes, now there is light :-)
    – FrankMK
    Commented Feb 24, 2018 at 0:20

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