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Russian Question Words: The Who, What, Where, and Why

In English we have 7 question words: What, Who, Why, Where, Which, When and How. In Russian we have a whole host of new ones to learn! Today, we are going to be covering 12 Russian question words, their English equivalents, and the different ways to use them.


Arguably the most useful word among them and the one which Russian learners learn first: что. Что means ‘what’ and can be employed in a variety of ways, the most important of which is:

Что это? What is this?

We use что to refer to, as in English, things.

Что ты делаешь? What are you doing?
Что ты хочешь? Чай или кофе? What do you want? Tea or coffee?


When we are talking about people, not things, we use кто.
Кто это? Who is this?
Кто звонил тебе? Who called you?

Both что and кто decline:

Nominative что кто
Accusative что кого
Genitive чего кого
Dative чему кому
Instrumental чем кем
Prepositional чём ком



There are two ways of asking ‘why’ in Russian. Firstly, we have почему which is the exact equivalent of why in English.

Secondly, we have зачем which is the equivalent of what for in English.

Look at the differences below:

Почему ты мой друг? Why are you my friend? (Possible answers include: you’re nice, you’re funny, and so on.)

Зачем ты мой друг? Why are you my friend? (What are you my friend for? Perhaps this person is only thinking of personal gain!)


As simple as it is in English – когда is used to ask when something is happening.

Когда твой день рождения? When is your birthday?


There are three ways to say where in Russian, depending on whether you’re talking about the location of something, motion towards something, or where something is from.

Где кот? Where is the cat?

Куда кот идёт? Where is the cat going?

Откуда кот? Where is the cat from?

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Какой кот? Which cat?
Какая чашка? Which cup?
Какое платье? Which dress?
Какие дети? Which children?

In Russian which is seen as an adjective. Therefore it agrees with the noun and it declines as an adjective:

Nominative какой какая какое какие
Accusative какой / какого* какую какое какие / каких*
Genitive какого какой какого каких
Dative какому какой какому каким
Instrumental каким какой каким какими
Prepositional каком какой каком каких

*Accusative masculine and plural take on genitive endings.


One of the first things you probably learned how to say was как, as seen in:

Как дела? How are you?

Как is straightforward, just as in English.


For when it’s not enough to ask who, and you need to discover the owner of something, we use чей.

Чей кот сьел рыбу? Whose cat ate the fish?
Чья книга на столе? Whose book is on the table?
Чьё это фото? Whose photo is this?
Чьи дети болели дифтерией? Whose children had diphtheria?

Чей, like какой, agrees with the noun and also declines like an adjective:

Nominative чей чья чьё чьи
Accusative чей / чьего* чью чьё чьи / чьих*
Genitive чьего чьей чьего чьих
Dative чьему чьей чьему чьим
Instrumental чьим чьей чьим чьими
Prepositional чьём чьей чьём чьих

*Accusative masculine and plural take on genitive endings.

Russian Question Words in Context

Learning words on their own isn’t helpful nor is it interesting. That’s why many language learning experts suggest learning new languages in context.

LingQ has thousands of hours of content that will help you learn Russian through context. Simply go to the lesson library and choose lessons based on their difficulty (beginner to advanced).

Learn Russian question words on LingQ

If the content on LingQ doesn’t interest you, then you can import online Russian content into LingQ.

For example, if there are Russian videos on YouTube that you enjoy, you can import them using LingQ’s web extension.

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Afterwards, you’ll have a brand new lesson in LingQ.

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Also, you can learn Russian on LingQ’s mobile app and study anywhere, anytime!

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Check out this guide to learn more about importing content from YouTube into LingQ.

Enjoyed this post? Check out polyglot and LingQ cofounder Steve Kaufmann’s blog post for some tips on learning Russian



Magdalena Osiejewicz-Cooper is a native speaker of Polish. She speaks fluent Italian and French. She is currently self-studying Spanish.


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