Interrogative Pronouns

by Craig Shrives

What Are Interrogative Pronouns? (with Examples)

The main interrogative pronouns are "what," "which," "who," "whom," and "whose." Interrogative pronouns are used to ask questions.

The other, less common interrogative pronouns are the same as the ones above but with the suffix "-ever" or "-soever" (e.g., "whatever," "whichever," "whatsoever," "whichsoever").
interrogative pronouns English grammar

Easy Examples of Interrogative Pronouns

  • What is that?
  • Which is yours?
  • Who done it?
  • Whom shall we ask?
  • Whose is this?
  • Whatever did you say?
  • Whomsoever did you find?
  • Whosever is this?
The suffix "-ever" and "-soever" are used for emphasis or to show surprise. (The suffix "-soever" is less common as it considered old fashioned.)

Click on the Two Interrogative Pronouns
(Interactive Game)

Real-Life Examples of Interrogative Pronouns

  • What is originality? Undetected plagiarism. (Dean of St Paul's Cathedral William Inge)
  • What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. (William Shakespeare)
  • (Here, the word "which" is not an interrogative pronoun. (It's actually a relative pronoun.) Remember that most words can play several different roles (or "functions" as grammarians like to say). In other words, "which" is only an interrogative pronoun when it's functioning as one!)
  • Which is worse, failing or never trying?
  • (Here, "which" is an interrogative pronoun.)
Interrogative pronouns can also be used to create indirect questions.
  • Do you know what this is?
  • (Here, the interrogative pronoun "what" is being used in an indirect question (bold), which is part of a wider question.)
  • I want to know what this is.
  • (Indirect questions can also feature in statements, i.e., in non-questions.)
Read more about indirect questions.

Do Not Confuse Interrogative Pronouns with Interrogative Determiners

Do not confuse interrogative pronouns with interrogative determiners (called "interrogative adjectives" in traditional grammar), which look the same as interrogative pronouns.

Interrogative determiners modify nouns or pronouns. Look at these three questions:
  • Which route is the safest?
  • What food are they buying?
  • Whose one shall we take?
  • (In these examples, the bold texts are not interrogative pronouns. They are interrogative determiners. They do not stand alone. They all modify nouns or pronouns.)
Compare the examples above with these similar examples:
  • Which is the safest?
  • What are they buying?
  • Whose shall we take?
  • (These all stand alone. They are interrogative pronouns.)

Do Not Confuse Interrogative Pronouns with Interrogative Adverbs

The interrogative adverbs are "why," "where," "when," and "how." Interrogative adverbs are also used to ask questions, but the answers to the questions they ask are adverbs. The answer to a question starting with an interrogative pronoun (or an interrogative determiner) is always a noun.
  • What shall we do? (Cycling)
  • (The answer to a question with an interrogative pronoun is always something functioning as a noun, e.g., a noun, a pronoun, or a noun phrase.)
  • Why do you have to leave? (because it's getting dark)
  • (The answer to a question with an interrogative adverb is always something functioning as an adverb, e.g., an adverb, an adverbial phrase, or an adverbial clause. In this example, it's an adverbial phrase of reason.)
Here is a fun example to dissect:
  • Who are you and how did you get in here?
    I'm a locksmith. And...I'm a locksmith. (from the 1982 TV series "Police Squad!")
  • (In this example, the answer to the interrogative pronoun "who" is the noun phrase "a locksmith." The answer to the interrogative adverb "how" is the unstated adverbial phrase "by virtue of being a locksmith." The answer to a question starting with an interrogative pronoun will be a noun (typically a person, place, or thing). The answer to a question starting with an interrogative adverb ("how," "when," "why," "where") will be an adverb (typically a place, a manner, a time, or a reason).
Read more about interrogative adverbs. Mistakes involving interrogative pronouns are rare, but there are two good reasons to know about interrogative pronouns.

(Reason 1) Avoid errors with "who" and "whom."

By the far the biggest issue with interrogative pronouns is using "who" when "whom" should be used. Remember that you can only use "who" when it is the subject of a verb. This is a simpler idea than you might think. "I," "he," "she," "we," and "they" are just like "who" because they are also used as the subjects of verbs (they're even called subjective pronouns). "Me," "him," "her," "us," and "them" are just like "whom" because they are not used as the subjects of verbs (they're called objective pronouns).
  • Who knows her? correct tick
  • (The subject of "knows" is "who." "Who" is correct.)
  • Who do you know? wrong cross
  • (The subject of "know" is you not "who." "Who" is wrong.)
  • Whom do you know? correct tick
Read more about "who" and "whom."

(Reason 2) Create rhetorical questions.

An interrogative pronoun can be used to ask a rhetorical question (a question for which no answer is expected). Posing a rhetorical question is an efficient and engaging way of making a point or introducing a new idea.
  • What is a weed? A weed is a plant whose virtues have never been discovered. (American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson)
Read more about rhetorical questions.

Help Us Improve Grammar Monster

  • Do you disagree with something on this page?
  • Did you spot a typo?

Find Us Quicker!

  • When using a search engine (e.g., Google, Bing), you will find Grammar Monster quicker if you add #gm to your search term.