What is an interrogative pronoun. No, there shouldn’t be a question mark at the end of that sentence — the word what is an interrogative pronoun. So what are the other interrogative pronouns? (That one really was a question.)
An interrogative pronoun replaces a noun in a sentence to ask a question. You don’t know which noun it's replacing until someone answers the question.
The five main interrogative pronouns are:
- what (What do you want?)
- which (Which do you prefer?)
- who (Who is that?)
- whom (Whom did you ask?)
- whose (Whose are these?)
Each of these pronouns stands in for a noun — which is the answer to the question. For example, in the sentence “What do you want?”, what can be a hamburger, a hug, or a new car, depending on what the speaker answers.
When you add -ever to interrogative pronouns, you get whatever, whichever, whoever, whomever, and whosever (yes, it’s a word). They typically function as object pronouns, but they can also function as interrogative pronouns with a fancier feel.
- Whatever happened to my slippers?
- Whichever did you choose?
- Whoever would have taken it?
- Whomever would you select?
- Whosever is this?
Don’t when, where, why, and how belong on that list of interrogative pronouns? The answer is no — even though they do make up the famous 5 W’s (and H). They are not interrogative pronouns because they are not pronouns.
When, where, why, and how are interrogative adverbs. They function as adverbs to modify verbs.
- When - adverb of time (When is the meeting? Tomorrow.)
- Where - adverb of place (Where is the bathroom? Upstairs.)
- Why - adverb of manner (Why did you leave? Because I was late.)
- How - adverb of manner (How are you? I am well.)
The answers to these questions aren’t nouns — they’re adverbs or adverbial clauses.
Tip: Questions that begin with interrogative pronouns always have answers that are nouns.
What, which and who replace the subject of a sentence — the noun performing the verb — when asking a question.
- What is your favorite? Chocolate is my favorite. (Chocolate is the subject)
- Who asked you? Oliver asked me. (Oliver is the subject)
- Which costs more? The Toyota costs more. (The Toyota is the subject)
What and which can also function as object pronouns, which receive the action or item in a sentence. Whom is also an object interrogative pronoun (which should settle the who vs. whom debate).
- What did you buy? I bought a necklace. (I is the subject; necklace is the object)
- Which does Becky want? Becky wants the green shirt. (Becky is the subject; the green shirt is the object)
- Whom do you like more? I like Paul more. (I is the subject; Paul is the object)
Whose replaces a possessive noun in a sentence to show who something belongs to. Notice that there’s no other noun in the sentence when whose functions as an interrogative pronoun.
- Whose is this? It’s Yolanda’s.
- Whose did you find? I found Marty’s.
- Whose are you buying? I’m buying Tom’s.
Replacing nouns in questions isn’t the only job for what, which, who, whom, and whose. They can function as interrogative determiners — words that describe nouns, not replace them.
- Whose shirt is this? (Whose modifies shirt)
- What movie should we watch? (What modifies movie)
- Which car is better? (Which modifies car)
Try removing the nouns shirt, movie, and car from the sentences. Now you’ve got interrogative pronouns again!
- Whose is this? (Whose replaces shirt)
- What should we watch? (What replaces movie)
- Which is better? (Which replaces car)
When interrogative pronouns appear in sentences that are not questions, they function as relative pronouns. Relative pronouns connect a noun and another clause. Whom, whose, who, and which are relative pronouns — and instead of what, you’d use that.
Determine whether the bolded word in each sentence is an interrogative pronoun or not.
- Today I went to the movies with Lila, who is my girlfriend.
- She asked, "What’s playing?”
- “A comedy that you haven’t seen before,” I said.
- “Great!” Lila said. “When does it start?”
- “Three o’clock and six o’clock,” I said. “Which time do you prefer?”
- “Six,” she said. “Who is in the movie?”
- “The actress who stars in all your favorite movies,” I said.
- Lila nodded. “Whose car should we take?”
- “Let’s take yours,” I said. “Where is it parked?”
- “In the driveway,” said Lila. “What are you waiting for? Let’s go!”
Are there interrogative pronouns in these sentences?
- Today I went to the movies with Lila, who is my girlfriend. (No — it’s a relative pronoun)
- She asked, "What’s playing?” (Yes)
- “A comedy that you haven’t seen before,” I said. (No — it’s a relative pronoun)
- “Great!” Lila said. “When does it start?” (No — it’s an Interrogative adverb)
- “Three o’clock and six o’clock,” I said. “Which time do you prefer?” (No — it’s an interrogative determiner)
- “Six,” she said. “Who is in the movie?” (Yes)
- “The actress who stars in all your favorite movies,” I said. (No — it’s a relative pronoun)
- Lila nodded. “Whose car should we take?” (No — it’s an interrogative determiner)
- “Let’s take yours,” I said. “Where is it parked?” (No — it’s an Interrogative adverb)
- “In the driveway,” said Lila. “What are you waiting for? Let’s go!” (Yes)