I heard the sentence from a non-native:

He spoke in Greek, which language I could only follow with difficulty.

Here, which attracts my attention! Has it been used correctly? Normally I would say the (very) language.

  • Related: “which” as relative determiner?.
    – Lawrence
    Aug 31, 2016 at 10:13
  • @Cardinal edited: from a non-native
    – Juya
    Aug 31, 2016 at 10:14
  • 1
    The sentence makes sense and is grammatically correct, but the construction using which isn't commonly used these days in casual conversation.
    – Lawrence
    Aug 31, 2016 at 10:18
  • 2
    I think it's grammatical. The relativised element here is not just "which", but the whole object NP "which language", and it's this phrase that derives its interpretation from the antecedent "Greek". I suspect your unease is caused by the fact that "which" most often occurs as an interrogative determiner as in "Which languages do you speak"? In your example, "which" is a determiner, but it's not interrogative.
    – BillJ
    Aug 31, 2016 at 13:03

1 Answer 1


No, which begins a new phrase usually. So after which will follow a subject/verb/etc, or those will be elided and implied.

Which can be a pronoun in a question, though.

I took the book off the shelf.

I took which book off the shelf (doesn't work)

You took which book off the shelf? (works)

Did you see the book Jason had? No, I couldn't find which one (= I couldn't find which one Jason had).

Whichever works more like a determiner/article:

I wanted to buy a car today. The one which Jason was talking about.

I wanted to buy whichever car today that Jason was talking about.

  • 1
    I can't see anything wrong with the OP's example. Wouldn't you consider "which" to be a relative determiner?
    – BillJ
    Aug 31, 2016 at 13:08
  • 1
    It sounds better if it was said "He spoke in Greek, which is a language I could only follow with difficulty."
    – LawrenceC
    Aug 31, 2016 at 13:58
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    I think BillJ is correct, it's just that this usage of "which" is kind of archaic these days.
    – stangdon
    Aug 31, 2016 at 14:41
  • 1
    Yes, but to be fair to the OP, we were considering the example he cited. Relatives with "which" as a determiner do seem quite rare. Relative determiner "which" only occurs in certain supplementary (non-defining) relatives where the relativised element (including the head noun) has a 'superordinate' NP as antecedent. And supplementary (non-defining) relatives are, I believe, the least frequent type - so maybe those factors contribute to the comparative rarity of such constructions.
    – BillJ
    Aug 31, 2016 at 16:54

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