Interrogative Pronouns

The Interrogative Pronouns are used in asking questions. They are who, which, what, and how.

Antecedents. An interrogative pronoun does not have an antecedent expressed in the sentence.

Case. Who has the following case forms.

Nominativewho
Possessivewhose
Objectivewhom

Which and what retain the same form for both the nominative and objective cases and have no possessive form.

Like other pronouns, the case of an interrogative pronoun is determined by its use in the sentence—subject of a verb, object of a verb, etc.

Who wants coffee? (Nominative case—subject of the verb).

Who was Charles Bukowski? (Nominative case—predicate pronoun).

Whose is that? (Possessive case—denoting possession).

Whom will you hire? (Objective case—object of the verb).

Whom did you collect money for? (Objective case—object of the preposition).

Position in the Sentence. As a general rule, the interrogative pronoun is placed at the beginning of the sentence even when it is a predicate pronoun or the object of the verb. When used as an object of a preposition, in formal English, the preposition usually precedes it: as, “From whom did you learn that?” (In informal English, especially in conversation and social media, the preposition is often placed at the end of the sentence.)

Interrogative Pronouns in Indirect Questions. Interrogative pronouns are used in both direct and indirect questions: “Tell me whom you met.” “I asked her what she baked.” In indirect questions the syntax of a direct question is expressed in a way somewhat different from that previously used by the speaker. Indirect questions most often follow verbs like ask, tell, wonder, etc. Thus, “Tell me whom you met” is the indirect form of the direct question, “Whom did you meet?” The question mark is omitted after an indirect question.

Distinction Between Interrogative and Relative Pronouns. Who, which, and what may be either interrogative or relative pronouns. In direct questions the interrogative pronoun is easy to spot. In indirect questions, the classification of who and which also offers little difficulty because as relatives these pronouns will have antecedents; as interrogatives they will not.

Pour the wine which you selected (relative).

Tell me which you selected (interrogative).

What used as a relative or interrogative pronoun does not have an antecedent. Its classification is determined by whether or not a question is implied.

We know what he did (relative).

She asked me what he said (interrogative).

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Compound Relative Pronouns

The Compound Relative Pronouns are what, whoever, whosoever; whosever, whosesoever; whomever, whomsoever; whichever, whichsoever; whatever, whatsoever.

Antecedent

The Compound Relative Pronouns most often have no antecedent in the sentence. In a sense, they contain their own antecedent. What, whichever, and whatever (with the corresponding -soever forms) are equivalent to that which (plural, those which): that is, they are equivalent to the demonstrative pronoun that combined with the relative pronoun which, the demonstrative pronoun being the antecedent of the relative pronoun. Similarly, whoever is the equivalent of he who (plural, they who): the personal pronoun he is used as the antecedent of the relative pronoun who.

By way of example, the sentence, “Show me what you’re talking about,” may be expressed as “Show me that which you are talking about.” The sentence, “Eat whichever you want,” may become “Eat that which you want.” “Whoever wants the bike can have it” is equivalent to “He who wants the bike can have it.”

Note. In some sentences the antecedent is present. In the sentence, “Whoever turns the work in on time, he will receive credit,” he is the antecedent of whoever.

Case and Use

Whoever and whosoever are the only compound relative pronouns that have different forms for the different cases.

Nominativewhoeverwhosoever
Possessivewhoseverwhosesoever
Objectivewhomeverwhomsoever

What, whichever, whichsoever, whatever, and whatsoever have the same forms for the nominative and objective cases and have no possessive forms.

The case of a compound relative pronoun, like a simple relative pronoun, is determined by how it is used in its own clause.

He’ll complain to whoever will listen.

Make a good impression with whomever you meet.

Associate with whomever you wish.

I’ll give the homeless man money, whoever he is.

In the first sentence, whoever is in the nominative case because it is the subject of the verb will listen; it is not the object of the preposition to. The whole clause, whoever will listen, is the object of the preposition.

In the second sentence, whomever is in the objective case because it is the object of the verb meet. It is not the object of the preposition with.

In the third sentence, whomever is in the objective case because it is the object of the preposition with “understood,” not the preposition with expressed in the sentence: “Associate with whomever you wish (to associate with).”

In the last sentence, whoever is in the nominative case because it is a predicate pronoun. Note that the predicate pronoun precedes the subject instead of following the verb is.

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Simple Relative Pronouns

Antecedent

The three simple relative pronouns, who, which, and that, frequently have an antecedent expressed in the sentence. This antecedent may be a noun or a pronoun.

He who works hard will succeed.

The bear that mauled the campers was killed by park rangers.

The secretary will type the report, which is due next Tuesday.

Unlike a personal pronoun, a relative pronoun is most often in the same sentence as its antecedent, which usually comes immediately before the pronoun.

Note. Which can have an entire statement as an antecedent if the connection is clear: as, “The enemy position was uncertain, which made troop deployment all the more dangerous.” Good writers often use this sort of construction, though its use is discouraged by many editors. In order to avoid this form of vague reference, a noun that sums up the whole statement can be substituted as the antecedent: “The enemy position was uncertain, a situation that made troop deployment all the more dangerous.”

Person, Number, and Gender

A relative pronoun agrees with its antecedent in person, number, and gender. Although the relative pronoun itself does not change form for these different properties, it is necessary to know the person and number of the relative in order to use the correct form of the verb. The form of the verb will be the same as would be used with the antecedent.

I who am the oldest will retire first.

They who are present will have to get the job done.

In the first sentence the antecedent is I, which is in the first person, singular number; the relative, therefore, is also in the first person, singular number, and requires the verb am. In the second sentence, the antecedent they is in the third person, plural number; consequently, the relative requires the verb are.

Gender has no effect on the use of the simple relative pronoun or the form of the verb.

Case and Use

The simple relative pronouns have the following case forms, which are the same for both singular and plural numbers.

Nominativewhowhichthat
Possessivewhose(of which) (whose)________
Objectivewhomwhichthat

Who is the only simple relative pronoun that changes form for the different cases.

Which has the same form for both the nominative and the objective cases. It has no regular form for the possessive case; the phrase of which is used instead. Sometimes whose, the possessive case of who, is employed as the possessive form of which. Thus, we may say, “South America has scores of indigenous tribes the languages of which have not been studied” or “South America has scores of indigenous tribes whose languages have not been studied.”

That does not change form and has no possessive form.

The case of the relative pronoun does not depend upon the case of the antecedent; it is determined by the use of the pronoun in the clause it introduces.

I met him who was just hired.

I met him whom you mentioned.

I met him of whom they spoke.

I met him whose business folded.

In the above sentences, the personal pronoun him is in the objective case because it is the object of the verb met. In the first sentence, the relative pronoun who is in the nominative case because it is the subject of the verb was in its own clause. In the second and third sentences, whom is in the objective case because it is used as the object of the verb mentioned and the object of the preposition of, respectively. In the fourth sentence, whose is in the possessive case because it indicates possession of business, a word in its own clause.

The Nominative Case is used with the subject of a verb.

This is the student who failed my class.

I found my wallet, which was lost.

He got on the plane that was doomed to crash.

The Objective Case is used:

(1)With the Direct Object of a Verb.

He is the guy whom they accused of stealing the money.

She mailed the Christmas cards, which she wrote the previous day.

People are judged by the words that they use.

(2)With the Object of a Preposition.

He had a meeting with the CIA agent from whom he bought the documents.

This is the book to which they referred.

She hit everything that she aimed at.

The Possessive Case is used to denote possession.

The pirates surrounded the ship, whose captain had fallen overboard.

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Relative Pronouns

A relative pronoun acts as both a connective word and a reference word.

(1) As a connective it introduces a clause—a group of words having a subject and a verb—and connects that clause to the antecedent of the pronoun. Relative pronouns also introduce clauses that have a nominal function in the sentence.

(2) As a reference word a relative pronoun refers to and takes the place of its antecedent and thus makes the repetition of the antecedent unnecessary. The relative will then function as the subject of the verb in the clause it introduces or as one of the other uses of a noun in the clause.

For example, in “John found the wallet that he lost,” the relative pronoun that connects the clause that he lost with the antecedent wallet and is used instead of wallet as the subject of the verb lost. In the sentence, “This is the woman whom you mentioned,” the relative pronoun whom acts as both a connective and the object of the verb mentioned.

Note. Either that or which could be used in the above sentence, “John found the wallet which (that) he lost.” However, that is most commonly used as a relative pronoun in restrictive clauses.

A relative pronoun is always part of its own clause with a subject and a verb and is separate from the main subject and verb of the sentence.

For example, the sentence, “She liked the wine that we drank last night” contains the main subject and verb, She liked, and also another subject and verb, we drank, which follows the relative pronoun that.

Classes of Relative Pronouns. Relative pronouns can be divided into two classes: Simple and Compound.

(1) The Simple Relative Pronouns are who, which, and that.

(2) The Compound Relative Pronouns are what and combinations made by adding -ever and -soever to who, whose, whom, which, and what: thus, whoever, whosoever; whosever, whosesoever; whomever, whomsoever; whichever, whichsoever; whatever, whatsoever. A distinguishing characteristic of compound relative pronouns is that they do not have an expressed antecedent.

Note. What is usually classified among the simple relative pronouns. Yet despite its simple form, it is like a compound relative pronoun because it does not have an expressed antecedent. Since function is more important than form, what is classified as a compound relative pronoun.

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Compound Personal Pronouns

The compound personal pronouns are made by adding the suffix -self or -selves to the appropriate form of the simple pronouns.

In the first and second persons, the suffix is added to the possessive case: myself, ourselves, yourself, yourselves. In the third person the suffix is added to the objective case: himself, herself, itself, themselves. Do not use the forms hisself and theirselves, for they are considered illiterate.

CASE

The case of the simple pronoun to which the suffix is added does not correspond to the case of the completed compound pronoun.

Although the suffix is added to the possessive case in the first and second persons, the resulting compound forms are not in the possessive case; they are in either the nominative or objective case, depending on their use in the sentence.

I myself will be held responsible (nominative—in apposition with the subject I).

I must have been kidding myself (objective—object of the verb).

Likewise, the third person forms, made from the objective case of the simple pronouns, are either nominative or objective, depending on their use in the sentence.

She herself will arrange the meeting (nominative—in apposition with the subject).

He made the desk for himself (objective—object of the preposition).

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