Commonly Misused Words: Whose

May 1, 2008: Issue 237

Whose is an often-misused word.

You know the difference between who’s (“who is”) and whose (“belonging to whom”). But another issue is usingwhose to refer to inanimate objects or concepts. While style manuals disagree on whether this is technically an error, the construction is usually awkward—and some readers will view it as poor grammar.

acceptable: a kitchen whose high style still works for a family
preferred: a kitchen where high style still works for a family

acceptable: the style, whose name derives from architect Robert Adam
preferred: the style, which takes its name from architect Robert Adam

To be safe, reserve whose (along with who and other related pronouns) for people and for animals with names.

correct: the copy editor, whose command of grammar made her a hit at parties
correct: Buddy, whose dewy brown eyes pleaded for liver snaps

Grammatically, treat other animals the same way you treat objects.

correct: the penguin, which had sheltered its egg all winter

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