Yet Another Post about English Usage (Cry for Help Edition)

Roget's and Bunuel
Creative Commons License photo credit: martcatnoc

Terribly sorry for my monomania, but these things stick in my head.

This time, I’m not telling you what I know, really. I’m admitting to a problem. I don’t know how to show possession in certain circumstances.

But first, let’s talk about the word “who.” Come on, you know you want to.

“Who” implies a person

“The person who ate my chocolate chip cookies will suffer in the ninth circle of hell.”

[Ok, it’s true that lots of people use “that” instead of “who” when writing about a person. This post isn’t about those people.]

Now, when I want to talk about a nonperson, I use “that”:

“The machine that destroyed my cookies will be disassembled and sent to Tatooine.”

With me so far? “Who” = Person. “That” = Not a person. Onward…


We have to use “whose” sometimes.

“Paul, whose car is blue, dislikes yellow cars.”

That sounds about right. Paul is still a person, despite his unyielding opposition to canary-colored cars.

But what do I say about a nonperson here:

“The building, whose windows are mirrored, stays cool in the summer.”

Whose? Really? That just doesn’t sound right for an inanimate object. (I’ve even seen “which’s” before, but not from a native English speaker.)

As far as I can tell, “whose” is our only option other than rewriting it.

Am I wrong?

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