In simple terms, as grammar confuses me too easily, I am wondering if they are of the same nature, if they can be used interchangeably, regardless of the wish to be formal.

To me they are not as the example shows:

the illness of which he died

the illness whereof he died

but not

the illness whose he died

But in a more usual sentence, I am not good enough in english to be able pin down the reason why we can say:

my work, the purpose of which is ....

my work, whose the purpose is ....

my work, whereof the purpose is ....

When to use whereof and not whose, or whose and not whereof ?

Well whereof is also possessive, from OED,

II.II rel. Of which.

6.II.6 Of which, in objective senses (of X).

7.II.7 Of which or whom, in partitive sense (of XIII).    Also with ellipsis of antecedent as obj. of a vb.: = some or something of which (of 45).

8.II.8 Of which, in possessive and related senses (of XIV).

Form this, it would be all right to say,

the man whereof the dog...

the man whose (the?) dog

  • I would recommend checking the parts of speech and definitions of whereof, whose and which in a dictionary first. Also its not clear which examples you think are correct or not. You wrote "we can say" for the last three examples, but only the first one is OK. – user3169 Apr 19 '14 at 19:05

Short answer:

the illness FROM which he died - YES

the illness whereof he died - ???

the illness whose he died - NO

my work, the purpose of which is - YES

my work, whose x purpose is - YES

my work, whereof the purpose is - ???

Long answer:

I have never heard "whereof" used in speech. I think it is an extremely formal and possibly archaic term. You do not need to learn it.

I would instead focus on "which" and "whose", which are both important conjunctions.

"which" is very similar to "that". You use "which" when the information presented is optional, and "that" when the information presented is essential and cannot be deleted from the sentence without changing its meaning. Consider these examples from http://www.dailywritingtips.com/that-vs-which/

My car that is blue goes very fast.

If you delete "that is blue" from this sentence, then you do not know which car goes fast. The blue car? The red car? etc.

My car, which is blue, goes very fast.

If you delete "which is blue" from this sentence, the meaning of the sentence does not change. The car color was just extra information that the writer wanted you to know.

"whose" is the possessive form of both "who" (people) and "which" (objects). Here are some examples:

She knew the family whose house we bought.

The chameleon is an animal whose fur changes color.


Whose is the possessive form of the pronoun "who". Your second example for "whose" is actually ungrammatical. You could say:

  • My friend, whose name is...

A good rule of thumb: if you would not use "who" or "whom" to describe the noun, do not use "whose" as a possessive. For example, you could say:

  • My friend, who is named...

but you would not say:

  • My work, who has a purpose...

So, for example:

  • Joe, who was painted blue, ran towards the wall.

  • The wall, which was painted red, was difficult to climb.

Who is for people, which is for everything else.

You should be able to recognize whereof, but you should not use it in your own writing and speech; it is archaic or hyper-formal, and not idiomatic in most (if not all) modern dialects. Use "of which" or a similar formation instead.

  • You can use "whose" for objects, even if you would not use "who" - see this question for details. – psmears Jan 12 '15 at 19:36

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