Using Whose with Inanimate Objects
The Quick AnswerCan whose be used with inanimate objects?
The word whose can be used with inanimate as well as animate objects. For example:
- A woman whose expression is glad has an innate beauty.
- A flower whose petals have withered still reeks of potential. (NB: Plants are not considered animate.)
Whose Can Be Used with Animate and Inanimate ObjectsWhose is the possessive form of who and which. It is not just the possessive form of who.
Why Do People Dislike Using Whose with Inanimate Objects?Even though whose can be used for inanimate objects, it feels awkward because we tend to think of whose as being the possessive of only who and not which.
The pronoun who refers to a person (and occasionally an animal). The person (or animal) that who refers to is called its antecedent. In each example below, the antecedent of who is shown in bold:
- I know the boy who stole the pie. (Here, boy is the antecedent of who.)
- The target is the man with the white stick who is bending now. (Here, man is the antecedent of who.)
- The target is the man with the white stick which is bending now. (Here, stick is the antecedent of which.)
(Note: It would also have been possible to use that instead of which.)
Do Not Treat Whose Like WhoAs we are programmed to identify animate antecedents when we encounter who, many people believe the relative pronoun whose must also refer to an animate antecedent. However, this is not the case.
Whose can also be used for inanimate antecedents. (After all, the word which's does not exist.) For example:
- Please show me the car whose engine caught on fire. (Here, car is the antecedent of the relative pronoun whose.)
- Love is like a beautiful flower which I may not touch but whose fragrance makes the garden a place of delight just the same. (Helen Keller) (Here, flower is the antecedent of the relative pronoun whose.)
(Note: Plants are not considered animate in the grammar world.)