1
  1. Whose is that car?
  2. Whose car is that?

Which of the two is the most natural way of saying it? I think #2 but may I be mistaken?

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  • 1
    It may depend on dialect and personality, but I prefer #2 because it starts with the subject of the question.
    – Andrew
    Commented Jan 14, 2018 at 13:51
  • 1
    You can say either of these. Both are fine. There is no mistake.
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented Jan 14, 2018 at 13:55
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    Number 2 would usually be more natural, especially for a casual inquiry. But if, for instance, you saw the latest mega-impressive Ferrari and placed a lot of emphasis on the word whose, you might well ask: Whose is that car? Commented Jan 14, 2018 at 14:34
  • 3
    Both are fine, and to all intents and purposes they mean the same. But that's not the case with, for example, Whose wife is that? (said while pointing to some woman at a party, perhaps), where it would be very unusual to ask Whose is that wife? Commented Jan 14, 2018 at 15:57
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    To the extent that there's a difference in emphasis, it's that #1 focuses more on the car, where #2 focuses more on the unknown owner. Thus the "car-centric" version might be more likely in contexts where the preceding utterances have involved [other] cars, for example. Commented Jan 14, 2018 at 16:15

3 Answers 3

1

Both are technically grammatical; I interpret them as different elisions of "Whose car is that car?" (which is so redundant as to be unnatural itself).

Between the two options, I find "Whose car is that?" flows significantly better. This lines up entirely with usage as searching in COCA for . whose is returns only two true matches while there are a lot of matches for the other word order. While "Whose is" is rarely followed by a noun phrase, it is very commonly followed by this, that, or it ("Whose is this?"), without a noun phrase.

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As a native English speaker, I can't decide which form of this question sounds more natural - both seem equally normal.

Neither phrase will sound odd or mark one out as a non-native speaker.

As a parent to teenagers, "Whose are these shoes?", "whose bag is this?", etc. all come equally easy to me.

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The second form is preferred, but there's enough leeway that the first example is not wrong grammatically.

Overanalysis:

The term "whose is" is an interrogative pronoun.

The term "whose car" is an interrogative adjective.

See http://www.myenglishteacher.net/adjectiveclauseswithwhose.html (near the bottom) for an example, there are a few webpages that cover this but it's difficult to both construct a suitable search term and find an example (quickly).


  1. Try replacing the word "whose" with the owner's name.

Whose is that car?

Thus it becomes: "Tom's is that car.", or more properly (to demonstrate the preference) "Tom's is.", which is shortened to "Tom's.".

Whose car is that?

Thus it becomes: "Tom's car is that.", or more properly (to demonstrate the preference) "Tom's car.", which is shortened to "Tom's.".


  1. See the comment to the question, from @Fumblefingers:

Whose is that wife?

Thus it becomes: "Tom's is that wife.", or more properly (to demonstrate the preference) "Tom's is.", which is shortened to "Tom's.".

Whose wife is that?

Thus it becomes: "Tom's wife is that.", or more properly (to demonstrate the preference) "Tom's wife.", which is shortened to "Tom's.".


  1. A further example of shortening to derive the preferred form:

Whose is that car? - "Whose is?"

Tom's is, or more simply Tom's.

Whose car is that? - "Whose car?"

Tom's car, or more simply Tom's.

So if you say "Whose is" you still must introduce the object (or manually gesture).

If you simply say "Whose car?" you neither need say more nor gesture at either the vehicle nor a specific person (to direct the question to a specific vehicle or specific person, assuming both are understood).


  1. We can also lengthen the sentence to determine which is more awkward:

Whose is that car that is blue?

  • "Whose is (that) blue (car)?", see that now you wouldn't even want to have "is" or "is that" in the sentence.

Tom's is, or more simply Tom's.

Whose car is that?, which would become: "Who's blue car is that?" (or more awkwardly "Whose car is that which is blue?").

  • "Whose blue car?"

-- Thus, the second form is preferred.



Let's get the wife doing something, about which to further the inquiry:

Whose is that wife dancing? or Whose is that dancing wife?

Whose wife dancing is that? or Whose dancing wife is that?

Notice how the first form is slightly more derogatory, if you are speaking to the owner of the car about his poor parking or choice of color you might get away with saying it that way (and maybe not).

Notice how the second form is less derogatory, it might be neutral or even complimentary (it would depend upon what she was doing, and how well or in what state).

You would probably want to be cautious whom you asked, and how you asked, about someone's wife; but the same might be said for some people's vehicle.

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  • These examples sound very odd. Substituting in someone's name in place of 'whose' in your section 1 makes no sense. In section 2, it's worth bearing in mind that wives are talked about differently to cars, not being inanimate objects. In 3, your shortenings don't work - they are not grammatically correct. 4 - again, just wrong. Dancing wife? Also just wrong.
    – Steve Ives
    Commented Apr 12, 2023 at 9:57
  • @SteveIves, thanks for visiting but we remain in disagreement. See also: wordcounter.io/grammar/whose-vs-whos blog.prepscholar.com/whose-vs-whos - that's how it's decided, if you don't know by learning then apply rules of thumb to remind you which is which - case in point, your answer required editing.
    – Rob
    Commented Apr 12, 2023 at 22:47
  • As a native English speaker, I don't need learning nor rules of thumb. "Whose" and "Who's" are easily determined by understanding that "Who's" is a short from of "who is" or "who has" etc. I'm not sure what part of that webpage you think is supporting your answer. Your examples are very stilted and odd and would not be used by a native speaker. I also suggest you see exactly what the edit to my answer consisted of.
    – Steve Ives
    Commented Apr 13, 2023 at 7:24
  • @steve, the question to be answered is the one asked, a search will show that the exact same question appears many times on the Internet, for example: forum.wordreference.com/threads/… - so there is a correct answer it's not a preference nor both the same. That concludes my monthly allotment for replies here.
    – Rob
    Commented Apr 13, 2023 at 17:19
  • I wouldn't place too much of your trust in that answer. It says "Whose is this car?" is wrong when it isn't. If you don't want to learn then fine. You gotta laugh when a non-native English speaker tries to 'correct' your common, everyday speech by referencing a book or referencing some webpage frequented by English language learners.
    – Steve Ives
    Commented Apr 13, 2023 at 23:18

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