English grammar

Module 2, Pronouns, Lesson 5:

Interrogative Pronouns

English grammar

Definition: To interrogate is to ask someone questions. Interrogative pronouns ask questions.

Interrogative Pronouns
Things Things or People People
What Which Who Whom Whose

What is used to ask about things. Do not use it to ask about people.

There's a really strange mixture in that pot. What did you put in there?
What is being used to ask about the ingredients in the pot.

Which is used to show a choice among two or more items.

Of all the items on the menu, which do you recommend?
In this scenario, the waiter is being asked to choose which menu item he likes best.

Which can also be used to indicate a choice or distinction among two or more people.

I see two girls making a sand castle. Which is your sister and which is your cousin?

Whose is a possessive pronoun used to find out whom something belongs to.

I see a stray flip flop on the floor. Whose is it?
Using whose is a shorter way to ask questions such as Who owns the flip flop? or Whom does the flip flop belong to?

Do not confuse the possessive pronoun whose with the contraction who's, which is short for who is. Remember, if you are trying to show possession, use whose, but if you want to say who is, use who's.

Who's going to the concert? ⇒ Who is going to the concert?
Use who's because you are not trying to indicate possession.

I found some concert tickets on the ground. Whose are they?
The tickets belong to someone, so use whose.

Each of these interrogative pronouns can be used as either singular or plural. Most of the examples in this lesson are singular, but below are a few plural examples.

What are these bugs called?
Of all these brand names, which are the best quality?
There are five cars parked in front of this house. Whose could they be?

When what, which, and whose are used in front of a noun, they are no longer interrogative pronouns, but interrogative adjectives. For example, in the question What time is it? the interrogative what is not a pronoun because it is followed by the noun time.

Who vs. Whom

Who is a subject pronoun. You use it ask for information about what people are doing or who they are.

Who wants to go hiking this weekend?
Who is the man with the long beard?

Whom is an object pronoun. It is used to find out whom an action is being done to, not who is doing an action. It is also used with prepositions.

Whom do you know in this class?
Whom is the object of the verb know.

Whom are you wrapping that gift for?
Whom is the object of the preposition for.

The preposition for tells us that someone is receiving the gift (not giving it), so it is necessary to use whom and not who. (Traditionally it was never acceptable to use a preposition at the end of a sentence or question, but this rule has been relaxed in recent years. For more information, see Prepositions, Lesson 9.)

Do the examples of whom sound a little odd to you? You're not alone! Using whom in casual conversation can sound formal and stuffy, so when we talk to each other we often use who instead. It's all right to continue to use who during informal conversation or even in informal writing, but with all formal writing you must use whom for the objective case and who for the subjective case.

Use who in a question when you would answer it with I, he, she, we, or they. Use whom when you would answer the question with me, him, her, us, or them. In other words, use who in a question if you would answer it with a subject pronoun, and use whom in a question if you would answer it with an object pronoun.

Who would like some ice cream? I would like some ice cream.
Who went to the fair? They went to the fair.
Who, I, and they are all subject pronouns. You wouldn't say me would like some ice cream or them went to the fair.

Whom did you ask for cookies? You asked him for cookies.
To whom did you wave? You waved to me.
Whom, him, and me are all object pronouns. You wouldn't say you asked he for cookies or you waved to I.

Who Whom
Subject pronoun Direct or indirect object pronoun
Never use as the object of a preposition Must use with prepositions

Practice What You've Learned

English grammar
Choose the correct interrogative pronoun for each sentence.
wrote the poem "The Raven?"
Who, Whom
To did you show the poem you wrote?
who, whom
will be coming to your party?
Who, Whom
did she push down the stairs?
Who, whom
There is a car sitting in the reserved parking space. is it?
Who, Whose
did you hear in the woods?
Which, What
of the birds is the cardinal?
Whose, Which
From did you receive that fabulous gift?
who, whom
owns the dog tied to the railing?
Who, Whom
did you invite to go to the movies?
Who, Whom