You Can Use ‘Whose’ for Things

Whose is the possessive form of the relative pronoun Who. What And that thingrelative pronoun is used for animals and things, lacks possessive form, so whose can also be used for their possessive forms, as in “the movie I can’t remember the name of.” Whose matches inanimate objects in all cases unless it can appear at the beginning of the question: while “Whose book is this?” well if the answer to the question is a creature, “Tears up pages?” doesn’t really make sense. Instead, the question about a book with torn pages might be, “Which book has torn pages?”

English is a pretty impressive language, but sometimes it doesn’t have the word you’re looking for. Writing notebooks will tell you that relative pronouns that thing used for animals, objects, and sometimes collectives or anonymous people (“the book won”, “the walking infant”); which used for animals and objects (“the river flows south”); And Who used for people and for animals, especially those who are treated like humans (“dog, who goes around with its owner”). Besides, whose is the possessive form of Who (“she asked whose car it was”).

According to the rules, whose then only applies to people and animals, so what is the equivalent property for inanimate objects? Truth be told, English did not exist, and writers from the Middle Ages onward had to borrow whose in this case. List of authors used whose for centuries-old inanimate objects including famous people with surnames such as Shakespeare, Milton, Austen and Fitzgerald.

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The mannequin, whose judgmental stance seems to imply disapproval, doesn’t really care about the word you use.

I can open a story whose gentlest words / Will hurt your soul… – William Shakespeare, hamlet1601

… the fruit / Of that forbidden tree, which tastes deadly / Brings death into the World … — John Milton, Heaven is lost1667

Upon reaching the house, they were led through the hallway into the living room, where the north facing makes it interesting for the summer. – Jane Austen, Proud and prejudice1813

I went out the back way… and ran to a huge tree with many black nodes whose dense leaves formed a rain cover. — F. Scott Fitzgerald, The great Gatsby1925

It was not until the 18th century that grammarians noticed this centuries-old peccadillo, unequivocally declaring whose is only the possessive of the relative pronoun Who while whispering acknowledging that English lacks possessive equivalents for which And that thing. Their recommendation is to use structure among them for inanimate objects. This can work in some cases, but for the most part, it seems clumsy or rigid.

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For example, compare the following pairs of sentences using whose And after that among them.

He’s watching a movie that I can’t remember the name of before. He was watching a movie that I couldn’t remember before.

The car with the cracked windshield is his. The car with the cracked windshield is his.

Note how? whose make a fluent sentence compared to among them. No wonder the writers chose not to listen to the stalkers and use whose in this case.

Another recommendation about when a possessive adjective can be used for an inanimate object is to simply construct the sentence without the possessive adjective.

He was watching a movie with a title that I couldn’t remember before.

The car with the cracked windshield is his.

The avoidance whose definitely works, but the fact that it’s easier to borrow whose to impart ownership to an inanimate object rather than working around it.

The constant borrowing has led to the filling of gaps in modern English grammar, creating the notion that you cannot use whose for old-fashioned inanimate things, such as the rules against conjugating infinitives and ending sentences with prepositions. If you want to use whose involving an inanimate object, go ahead; if you choose to rewrite a sentence to avoid using whose, feel free to do it too. Related to among them: seems like a good choice when you want a formal or literary tone.

Before closing, an example where whose cannot be used for an inanimate object should be mentioned and that is in question. When whose appears at the beginning of a question, such as “Whose keys are these?”, it can only function as a pronoun for people or animals.

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If you asked which box the lid belonged to, you wouldn’t say, “Whose lid is this?”, because whose in such cases can only refer to a living organism. Instead, you’d say something like “Which container does this lid belong to?”

You should also pause to ask yourself the important question, “Why am I talking to containers?”

Categories: Usage Notes

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