Source: p 2 of 2, Relational Possessives Such as “Him” and “Her”, by Neal Whitman BA PhD

Foreword: To differentiate the two nouns surrounding of which, I replace the original quote's:
'car' with 'part' (abbreviated to P)   and  'windshield' with 'whole' (abbreviated to W).

Sometimes the idea that inanimate nouns don’t have possessive forms shows up in a more specific claim: That the relative pronoun “whose” cannot refer to an inanimate noun. This is the idea that a phrase such as
“[1.] the W whose P got cracked by a piece of gravel”
should actually be phrased
“[2.] the W of which P got cracked by a piece of gravel.”

As I wrote in episode 108, “‘whose’ is the only English word we have to refer to inanimate antecedents. Perhaps someone will invent a new word for this purpose, but as of now we’re stuck with ‘whose.’ ”

Consider 3 defined as follows. Then I can tolerate that 1 = 3.

3. the W, the P of which got cracked ...

But how does 2 = 3? 2 seems wrong because from Definition 1.0, of expresses P as a part of W. So must P precede of which, as in 3, but unlike 2?

George Washington's 1789 Inaugural Address exemplifies the syntax in 2:

[4.] Among the vicissitudes incident to life[,] no event could have filled me with greater anxieties than that of which the notification was transmitted by your order [...].

I didn't understand 4 until I rewrote the preposition + relative pronoun:

5. [...] no event could have filled me with greater anxieties than that [event] [,] the notification [of which] was transmitted [...]

2 Answers 2


(Native American English speaker here.)

I think you are right: 2 is ungrammatical. The author is using it to illustrate the kind of nonsensical sentences that people invent when they are under the delusion that whose can't refer to an inanimate object.

I've occasionally run across similar things at work. For example, some people have been "taught" in school that 's is "possessive" and therefore can only apply to a person or organization who can own things. So, instead of writing "the car's right front fender got dented", they'll insist on "the right front fender of the car got dented". That's grammatical, but the sentence is easier to follow if you put "fender" right before the verb, and 's helps you do that.


I agree with the original poster that phrasing #2 sounds unnatural (to my American ear). I might say something like:

  1. the car with the cracked windshield

or if (for some weird reason) I wanted to put the "piece of gravel" in the sentence:

  1. the car that had its windshield cracked by a piece of gravel

Technically, #2 is correct, but very hard to parse. The "of which" refers to the car, so the car possesses the windshield. Usually expressions like this are set off by commas. The commas make them easier to parse:

  1. The car, of which the windshield got cracked by a piece of gravel, was due for a tune-up.

This is still more awkward than the original phrasing:

  1. The car (whose windshield got cracked by a piece of gravel) was due for a tune-up.

Many people name their cars, and refer to them has "he" or "she" (depending on the name). It therefore sounds natural to anthropomorphize cars.

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