I've just written on another SE site:

My problem is that I can't ignore a file whose name I don't know

and I keep wondering whether there's another word for whose in this case. Somehow it sounds overcomplicated to me (I'm not a native in English anyway)

Some other questions such as Can we use WHOSE for things? (or should I use 'that' or 'which'?) explains that I can use this word but, Could I use another word as an alternative?

  • My problem is that I can't ignore a file that I don't know its name
    – Cardinal
    Jun 28, 2016 at 7:46
  • 3
    @Cardinal That's ungrammatical. It would have to be ... ignore a file that I don't know the name of with a stranded preposition. Still a relative clause though, and not really an improvement
    – BillJ
    Jun 28, 2016 at 8:10
  • 1
    @BillJ Why the possessive its is wrong here? I am curious to know. I thought the OP asked for a substitution for whose.
    – Cardinal
    Jun 28, 2016 at 8:22
  • 3
    @Cardinal: In English, in a relative clause like this, it's wrong to refer back to the topic of the clause with "it" in that way. In some languages one might say the equivalent of "*Here is the pencil that I broke it" (using "it" to make it clear where "the pencil" relates to the subordinate clause), but this is not grammatical in English (you have to say "Here is the pencil that I broke" - with no "it"). When the topic of the subordinate clause is neither the subject nor object in that clause this can sometimes be difficult to word the sentence well, as in this example.
    – psmears
    Jun 28, 2016 at 11:01

3 Answers 3


Whose is absolutely normal there. in writing, and I would use it in speech as well.

Colloquially, you could say "a file [that] I don't know the name of".

  • All the responses are great, but I think that this attacks the "overcomplication" of my sentence. Thanks
    – malarres
    Jun 28, 2016 at 11:04
  • Also, "I can't ignore a file if I don't know what it's called", Jun 28, 2016 at 12:51
  • Is it really correct here? I thought whose (same as who) can only be used for persons (and file is a thing)? (I'm not a native)
    – Arsen
    Jun 28, 2016 at 14:48
  • "a file [that] I don't know the name of" - to be totally correct in the way that infuriated Churchill ;-) you would say 'a file of which I do not know the name' or the (perhaps even stricter) transformation suggested by MadWard Jun 28, 2016 at 15:03
  • a file I don't know the name of is much better IMO and eliminates a useless use of that which is always pleasing because that is such useless cruft so often
    – cat
    Jun 28, 2016 at 15:12

You could use when, like this:

My problem is that I can't ignore a file when I don't know its name.

The emphasis shifts a little – whose emphasizes the file, while when emphasizes the event. Overall, though, the sentence retains its general meaning.

  • @psmears What do you think about this answer? Is it ungrammatical? I just want to learn that. J.R. this is about the comments below the questions!
    – Cardinal
    Jun 28, 2016 at 12:25
  • 2
    You could use "if" or "because" instead of "when". That would emphasize the reason why you can't ignore it, rather than the event of ignoring it.
    – alephzero
    Jun 28, 2016 at 17:04

You can use of which, but it gets even more complicated:

My problem is that I can't ignore a file the name of which I don't know.

Or simply rewording with with:

My problem is that I can't ignore a file with an unknown name.

  • 2
    My vote goes to the rewording with with.
    – shin
    Jun 28, 2016 at 7:21
  • 4
    Yes, but your 2nd example implies that the file's name is not known to anyone, whereas in the OP's example, the file name is only unknown to the speaker
    – BillJ
    Jun 28, 2016 at 8:21
  • Thanks. Actually I was asking for an alternative for whose and you provided one. But I agree with you: it gets even more complicated :D. It might be a problem of thinking in Spanish when writing in English!
    – malarres
    Jun 28, 2016 at 9:19

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