While searching the internet I came across this and thought I would share it with you in order to understand whether there is something wrong there and why.

Whose hat is this? The question word whose is used with a noun as a determiner.
Whose is this hat? Whose is a possessive word meaning 'of whom'.

Then, are the assertions above right? If not, why?


2 Answers 2

  1. Whose hat is this? The question word "whose" is used with a noun as a determiner.

  2. Whose is this hat? "Whose" is a possessive word meaning 'of whom'.

Question: Then, are the assertions above right? If not, why?

Short Answer: I guess those "assertions" in there are somewhat right, on the whole. Though, for #2, I'd prefer: "Whose is this?"

LONG ANSWER: Here's some related info in the 2002 CGEL. On page 472:

  • [49.iii] A: My suggestion was ignored again. B: Whose wasn't?

And on page 904:

7.2 Whose

Interrogative whose is genitive and (unlike relative whose) personal, so that presuppositions to whose questions contain someone:

[6] - - - - - QUESTION - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - PRESUPPOSITION

  • i.a. Whose bicycle did she take? - - b. "She took someone's bicycle"

  • ii.a. Whose is that? - - - - - - - - - - - b. "That is someone's/belongs to someone"

  • iii.a. Whose do you prefer? - - - - - b. "You prefer someone's"

In [i] whose is determiner to a noun head, while [ii] is the predicative use, with answers like It's mine. In [iii] whose is a fused determiner-head, with the interpretation recoverable from the context -- e.g. Kim and Pat don't need their bicycles today: whose would you prefer to borrow? This is a relatively infrequent construction: one would be more likely to use which. Whose can be used when the variable ranges over a contextually identifiable set, but it is hardly possible with a partitive of phrase: * Whose of the two of them would you prefer?

Perhaps also consider an interrogative "whose" as used in:

  • "Whose will be chosen by the committee tonight?"

where numerous plans were proposed by numerous individuals. In this above example, the word "whose" is obviously the subject.

NOTE: The 2002 CGEL is the 2002 reference grammar by Huddleston and Pullum et al., The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language.


The terminology for possessives is highly variable, so there is no single correct answer. Still, I'll give it a shot.

In "Whose hat is this?", whose is the interrogative possessive determiner. "Determiner" in that it's analogous to some in "some hat", every in "every hat", and so on; "possessive" in that it indicates a possessive, analogously to my in "my hat" (which is also a possessive determiner); and "interrogative" in that it expresses a question, analogously to who in "Who is this person?" All three of these facts affect its grammar.

In "Whose is this?", I think the situation is much the same, except that hat (or thing) is left implied; just as we can say "She ate some" instead of "She ate some cake" if the cake is obvious from context, we can say "Whose is this?" instead of "Whose hat is this?" if everyone can see that it's a hat. According to some analyses, this usage is still a determiner; according to other analyses, a determiner changes into a pronoun when it does this.

My dialect does not have *"Whose is this hat?" — I'm not sure if there are other dialects that do have it, or if it's strictly a non-native-speaker-ism — but if it did exist, then I suppose whose would be an interrogative possessive adjective or pronoun, analogously to mine in "This hat is mine."

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