I know the following definitions of what and which.

what : asking for information specifying something
which : asking for information specifying one or more people or things from a definite set

But I can't understand why the author used both what and which in the sentence. If sports are thought of as an indefinite set, I think what is preferred. If not, which preferred.

If you ask someone to name three sports, most likely he or she will be able to answer with ease. After all, nearly everyone has an idea about what types of activities are regarded as sports and which are not. Like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's famous remark about pornography ― "I know it when I see it" ― most of us think we know what sports are. However, the line drawn between examples of sports, leisure, and play is not always clear. In fact, devising a definition that establishes clear and clean parameters around what types of activities should be included and excluded is relatively difficult to do. Activities that are regarded as play today may gain the status of sport in the future. For example, many people once played badminton in their backyards but this activity was hardly considered a sport. Since 1992, however, badminton has been an Olympic sport!

Sports: Why People Love Them!

  • Working backwards, it would sound really bad to say ".. and WHAT are not." You absolutely need to say "which". As far as the first part of the sentence, I think "activities" is a sufficiently broad choice and you could use either "what" or "which" here, but I definitely think "which" sounds better so as to match the "and which are not."
    – cruthers
    Aug 26, 2021 at 4:02
  • The writer should have written, "After all, nearly everyone has an idea about which types of activities are regarded as sports and which are not."
    – Readin
    Aug 26, 2021 at 4:23

1 Answer 1


It's not a juxtaposition what and which, but of what types and which. The implication is that certain types of activities (groups of activities with similar characteristics, for example ball games) can be considered sports, but the remainder don't have common characteristics and need to be considered individually. what types is the best way of referring to the groups, but which is the better term to use for the individuals.

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