Using "Whose" with Inanimate Objects

by Craig Shrives

This Page Includes...

The Quick Answer
Can "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. correct tick
  • A flower whose petals have withered still reeks of potential. correct tick
  • (NB: Plants are not considered animate.)
whose with inanimate objects

"Whose" Can Be Used with Animate and Inanimate Objects

"Whose" is the possessive form of "who" and "which." It is not just the possessive form of "who." This means it can be used with animate and inanimate objects.

Examples of Using "Whose" with Inanimate Objects

In these examples, the inanimate object used with "whose" is in bold.
  • Love is like a beautiful flower that I may not touch, but whose fragrance makes the garden a place of delight just the same. (Author Helen Keller) correct tick
  • There is no force so powerful as an idea whose time has come. (Politician Everett Dirksen) correct tick
  • What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered. (Philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson) correct tick
  • I have never started a poem yet whose end I knew. Writing a poem is discovering. (Poet Robert Frost) correct tick

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 form of only "who" and not "which."

More about the Difference between "Who" and "Which"

The relative 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.")
  • My brother is the man with the white stick who is bending now.
  • (Here, "man" is the antecedent of "who.")
In the second example above, we know "who is bending now" refers to "man" because "who" can only refer to animate things. Compare that example with this one: In the example above, we know "which is bending now" refers to "stick" because if it referred to "man," we would have used "who" and not "which."

The way we differentiate between "who" and "which" is why writers are reluctant to use an inanimate antecedent with "whose." However, if we think of "whose" as being the possessive form of both "who" and "which" (not just "who"), then this reluctance disappears.

A Workaround for "Whose" with an Inanimate Antecedent

If you still can't bear to use "whose" with an inanimate object, then it might be possible to use the following structure as a workaround.
[noun]
+
[preposition, usually "of"]
+
"which"


Here are some re-worked sentences from the examples above:
  • Love is like a beautiful flower that I may not touch, but the fragrance of which makes the garden a place of delight just the same. correct tick
  • There is no force so powerful as an idea the time of which has come. correct tick
  • What is a weed? A plant the virtues of which have never been discovered. correct tick
  • I have never started a poem yet the end of which I knew. Writing a poem is discovering. correct tick
This isn't an elegant workaround, but it's an option. The best bet? Go with "whose."

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.
Next lesson >

See Also

"Who's" or "whose"? "Which," "that," or "who"? Using a comma before "which" and "who" "Who" or "whom"? Possessive adjectives Possessive pronouns

Page URL