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Our teacher has given as an example question:

なに いろ が すきですか?

But has told us that we cannot use the same construction for asking a question about food, instead we have:

食べ物 は なに が すき ですか

What is going on here?

Elsewhere I've read things that suggest that 'naniiro' is a question word and that 'nani' can combine with some words like that.

Is there a good linguistic explanation of what is going on?

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    There might be a problem if your teacher has given you 「なにいろがですか?」 as an example question as this question is ungrammatical. Please double-check this question. – Earthliŋ Jan 23 '18 at 15:28
  • I'm pretty sure that's what he wrote on the board. In what way is this ungrammatical? – Francis Davey Jan 23 '18 at 15:34
  • That sort of depends on what you want to say. なにいろですか means "What colour is [it]?" – Earthliŋ Jan 23 '18 at 15:43
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    You forgot the すき in the first question, that's all. I'm sure it's just an oversight. – Leebo Jan 23 '18 at 15:43
  • @Leebo Ah, I was looking at the wrong sentence. Yes, you are correct. I've amended it. – Francis Davey Jan 23 '18 at 16:11
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It's worth separating the two examples as examples of different constructions to ask the same type of question. It will make more sense if you comprehend the following:

X が (adjective/verb) か。
(X as subject「が」) (adjective/verb question「か」)

なにいろが すきですか。
(what color is the subject) (do you like is the question)
What color do you like?

As you mentioned before, なにいろ is a sort of question expression asking which color or what color or something to that effect.

This is related to, but not exactly the same as:

X は Y が (adjective/verb) か。
(X as topic「は」) (Y as subject「が」) (adjective/verb question「か」)

食べ物は なにが すきですか。
(food is the topic) (what is the subject) (do you like is the question)
As for food, what do you like?

That being said, it is possible to rewrite なにいろがすきですか as いろはなにがすきですか but it sounds more natural in the first form whenever it is available depending on the question. Likewise, it is possible to rewrite たべものはなにがすきですか to なんのたべものがすきですか。

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I think maybe this doesn't have an answer yet because it's been answered in the comments and also because your presumption is right: [何]{なに} can't reliably be combined with just any noun, but it does so in certain compounds such as [何]{なに}[色]{いろ} and those mentioned in the comments. In addition, [何]{なに} combines with counters and temporal nouns to produce words like [何]{なん}[台]{だい} and [何]{なん}[月]{がつ}. What you can't do is say, e.g.:

何[食]{た}べ[物]{もの}が[好]{す}きですか。X

This, however, is okay:

[何]{なん}[食]{た}べ[物]{もの}が[好]{す}きですか。

  • As far as OP's question goes, because OP is using mostly Hiragana, I suggest you revise your answer to either be all Hiragana, or at the very least, use furigana over your Kanji, so that OP is able to read it correctly. – psosuna Jan 23 '18 at 22:16
  • To be honest, most Japanese people wouldn't say 何の食べ物が好きですか. – Yuuichi Tam Jan 24 '18 at 5:26
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    ^ そおねぇ・・「どんな食べ物が好きですか?」とかかな・・ – Chocolate Jan 24 '18 at 5:33
  • @Chocolate「どんな食べ物が好きですか?」を僕に聞いたら、「地中海料理」とか答えるんだけど、「食べ物は何が好きですか?」だったらたぶん「ケバブ」とか「ギロス」とか答えます。二つの質問はちょっと違うだと思いますが、それは僕の考え方か本当に違うかどっちがあまりわかりません – psosuna Jan 30 '18 at 1:12

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