Let's say there is a person in a room who has a blue pen in his hand. Can I say something like this:

  • Whom should I ask from?
  • The one having a blue pen

Or I only have to answer like this

  • The one who has a blue pen

3 Answers 3


The one having a blue pen is grammatically impeccable, but impossibly literary. This sort of utterance is unlikely to appear in a formal context, and practically no Anglo-American speaker today (and very few in the past) would express that meaning with having. We'd say

The one with a blue pen.

And even that is fairly stiff: in actual speech pronominal one is rarely used except to allude to a member of a previously defined category:

  • Which monitor/teacher/clerk/&c should I ask?
  • The one with the blue pen.

But with uncategorized who rather than categorized which, most people would use the appropriate noun:

  • Who should I ask?
  • The guy/woman/kid/&c with the blue pen.

If you have no idea who will have the blue pen, use a fused relative:

Whoever has the blue pen.

  • +1 Great answer. But why "Who" instead of "Whom"? Mar 29, 2017 at 8:27
  • 3
    @SovereignSun Because as I said, this sort of exchange is characteristic of improvised spoken English, and practically nobody--even me, the pickiest and most pedantic speaker you are ever likely to encounter--uses whom in speech. Mar 29, 2017 at 9:58
  • As William Zinsser says, "Bad writing makes bright people look dumb". I don't wish to offend you but let's teach learners proper spoken and written English and explain the difference, I agree that "Whom" is rather stilted to the modern ear and therefore less common but it's grammatically correct in these examples. We are trying to teach non-native speakers proper formal English and spoken English, so we should give credit to what we are explaining. Mar 29, 2017 at 10:24
  • 2
    @SovereignSun 'Proper' and 'correct' English is the English proper to the specific context and speech community in which it is used. And our users have a very wide variety of purposes: some are eager to master academic English, some colloquial English suited to commercial environments--and some have a sound knowledge of academic English but need to understand the vernacular used in songs and movies, and in striking up conversations in bars with attractive strangers. Mar 29, 2017 at 10:50
  • 1
    @Araucaria Absolutely. I was thinking about introducing that, but then work [MAYNARD G. KREBS: Work!] intervened. Mar 29, 2017 at 15:17

*The one having a blue pen. (ungrammatical with this meaning)

The sentence above would be regarded as ungrammatical by most native speakers when used to convey the meaning the one who has a blue pen. It uses an -ing clause having a blue pen to modify the common noun one.

Why would people consider it ungrammatical? That's a good question!

We can split verb phrases into two types. Some verb phrases describe actions, for example:

  • She's eating an ice-cream.
  • The elephants are dancing the tango.
  • We play tennis every Thursday.

Above we see examples of actions such as eating, dancing or playing tennis. Other verb phrases describe situations instead of actions:

  • She has a brother.
  • I don't like cheese.
  • I know Bob.

We normally only use ing clauses to modify nouns when they describe actions. We don't use them when they describe situations or states. The following examples are fine because they describe actions:

  • The one eating an ice-cream
  • The one dancing the tango
  • The one playing tennis

These examples which describe situations, not actions, are wrong:

  • *The one having a brother.
  • *The one not liking cheese.
  • *The one knowing Bob.

The Original Poster's question

The Original Poster wants to know if we can use clauses with having to describe nouns. The answer is: it depends! If the verb having is being used to describe a situation (especially if it describes possession), then we cannot:

  • *The one having a pen.

However, if the verb having is being used to describe an action, then we definitely can:

  • The one having a party.
  • The one having a tantrum.
  • The one having his face painted.

This is similar to how we use -ing verbs in present participle constructions.


The answer "The one having a blue pen" is correct, but the question is not correct. There is no preposition after "ask"

We can re-write the sentence as following:

  • Whom should I ask?
  • The one having a blue pen

In this case, we can understand that:

I should ask the one having a blue pen

  • "Whom should he ask what?" or "for what?" Mar 29, 2017 at 7:56

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