Whose is used for people (e.g. "Whose that girl?"), but is it acceptable to use whose for objects too?
Is there another word I should use for objects?

To make the question clearer, when I ask "Whose that car?" I am expecting an answer similar to "It's X's car." where X refers to a person. I could say "a man whose opinion I respect." and whose opinion would refer to the opinion of a person.
Could I say "the desk whose drawer was broken by my brother"? Should I replace whose with another word?

  • 5
    Bad example for usage of "whose". It should have been "Who is that girl?". Valid example for "whose" could be "A girl whose necklace was stolen".
    – Mohit
    Jan 26, 2013 at 13:55
  • Similar question at ELU: Can “whose” refer to an inanimate object? english.stackexchange.com/questions/23541/…
    – Mohit
    Jan 26, 2013 at 13:59
  • 2
    Please fix up the example in your question so that people don't keep on "answering" to correct the mistake in your "example" rather than answering the actual question which is "whether whose can be used with objects"!
    – Mohit
    Jan 26, 2013 at 14:03
  • I cannot remove the example I used, or the answer already given would not have anymore sense. (Somebody could wonder why two answers are about whose versus who's when the question is only about whose?) The two answers give a relevant information (don't confuse whose with who's) even if the question was not limited to whose used in that specific sentence.
    – apaderno
    Jan 26, 2013 at 14:15
  • 3
    On Stack Exchange sites, once answers are given, a question cannot be edited, if the edit invalidates the already given answers. Furthermore, the most up-voted answer explains the difference between whose and who's, and it answers about using whose in sentences like "Melbourne is a city whose public transport is good." which is the topic of the question. (Melbourne is a city, not the name of a person.)
    – apaderno
    Jan 26, 2013 at 14:34

4 Answers 4


There are two uses of whose:

  1. Relative whose, used in forming relative clauses.
  2. Interrogative whose, used in asking a question.

The former can refer to inanimate objects, but the latter cannot.

Take a look at this sentence, in which relative whose refers to an inanimate object:

Two of these were large marble jars whose manufacture must have represented an enormous amount of work since metal tools were unknown at that time. (source)

Here, relative whose refers back to the noun phrase large marble jars, an inanimate object. This usage is fairly common and unremarkable.

However, interrogative whose does not have this ability. If you wanted to ask which cars had engines that needed replacing, this sentence would be unacceptable:

*Whose engines need replacing?

This is because interrogative whose cannot refer back to cars, an inanimate object.

Huddleston and Pullum use the labels personal and non-personal for this distinction. In these terms, interrogative whose is personal, and relative whose can be either personal or non-personal.

In this answer, * marks a sentence as unacceptable.


In your first example, you have mixed up whose with who's. Who's is a contraction of who is; whereas whose is the possessive form of who or which, when used as an adjective.

Who's that girl?

Whose car is this?

Melbourne is a city whose public transport is good.

Who's that at the door?

As for your other example, it's perfectly valid to use whose when referring to an object. Saying something such as "the desk whose drawer was broken by my brother" is fine. The third example that I listed above is the usage of whose in just that manner.


Whose isn't used when referring to people; who's is, which is the abbreviated form of "who is".

Who's that girl?

Whose *is* used when identifying objects.

Whose phone is that?

  • True, but when you ask "Whose phone is that?" you are not expecting the answer to be "It's the dog's phone."
    – apaderno
    Jan 26, 2013 at 14:16
  • @kiamlaluno That would depend... (But you wouldn't expect it)
    – Liam W
    Jan 26, 2013 at 14:31
  • A: Whose daughter are you seeing? B: The preacher's
    – Mari-Lou A
    Dec 11, 2016 at 18:06

Whose: of whom/what.

Who's: who is.

Since who's cannot refer to objects, but a person, we use it's (that's not the point, but still). Whose is a completely different word meaning of whom/what.

  • 2
    So, can you say "The desk whose drawer was broken by my brother"?
    – apaderno
    Jan 26, 2013 at 14:18
  • 1
    @kiamlaluno: yes. Jan 26, 2013 at 16:43
  • The possessive pronoun is spelled its there is no apostrophe, the meaning of it's = it is.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Dec 11, 2016 at 17:33

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