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Is it idiomatic to say "What is a toy from the East?" (meaning "Which toy comes from the East?") in a multiple choice quiz? For example:

What is a toy from the East?

  1. top

  2. butterfly

  3. blocks

Or will it sound a bit off?

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  • It will sound off - which is a toy from the East? is the grammatically correct choice (select one from a list). Apr 8, 2021 at 13:14

2 Answers 2

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A) What is a toy from the East? [Grammar FINE, meaning, NOT FINE, for the multiple choice given.

  • A top

  • A butterfly

  • Blocks

To answer A), you have to say something like: A toy from the East is Oriental.

  • What is a toy from the East?

It is:

  • Oriental
  • Asian
  • Indonesian
  • None of the above
  • Very cute
  • A top, a butterfly, blocks [all unlikely but grammatically possible].

B) Which one (or Which [of these]) is a toy from the East? [Grammar, FINE. Meaning: Asks for the object to be pointed out by a person. This one or that one or A top, A butterfly or Blocks.

This one or that one or x is/are a toy from the East.

  • A top

  • A butterfly

  • Blocks

To answer B), you have to point out or identify which options work for a toy from the East by ticking a box or pointing to it. It is not about identifying the nature of the object as What is does.

Asking what is/what are is not exactly the same as Which is/are or Which one is/Which one are.

Conclusion: "What is/are" questions are not the same as "Which one/Which is/are" questions.

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Which toy is from the East?

or

Which is a toy from the East?

The former implies all options are toys, the latter suggests there might be different sorts of things with a toy among them.

Which is preferable over what when there is a fixed set of options.

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