Question: “Dear Grammar Guy: I’m having a writing quandary. This sentence makes sense: “Jordan Fischer, whose column is called Grammar Guy…” But what about when the subject is no longer a person? I find myself wanting to write the equivalent of “Current in Carmel, whose circulation is high…” But that isn’t right. Is there an equivalent of ‘whose’ for non-people? Thanks!” — (Gilligan’s Aisle)
Answer: Thanks for writing in, Gilligan. We’ve got to make a little detour before getting to your question, but I promise to keep it brief.
I’ve written previously about the pronouns “that,” “which” and “who.” As a quick refresher: “that” and “who” are used to refer to people; “that” and “which” are used to refer to things; and “that” introduces essential clauses, whereas “which” introduces non-essential clauses.
With that in mind, you’ve correctly identified Current in Carmel as a non-human subject – so we will need either “that” or “which.” Whether or not the circulation information is essential or not will make the choice for us.
While I know Steve and Brian will argue that Current’s circulation model – delivered free to every household in all of its communities – is at the core of its business strategy, in our example sentence above, the information is non-essential. It could be removed from the rest of the sentence, had we finished it, and that sentence would continue to make sense. Thus, we need “which.”
So now, our initial question becomes our final question: What is the possessive form of “which?” Well, you may be tickled to learn that it was right in front of you this whole time: It’s “whose.” Whether your antecedent is a person, animal, spaceship, lump of coal or a talking, purple prehistoric lizard, “whose” is your go-to possessive pronoun. How about that, Jack?