What Are Interrogative Adjectives And How Do You Use Them?

Pop quiz! What flavor of ice cream is your favorite? Of all your friends, whose house is the biggest? Which forest animal are you most like? This might have been one of the easiest and silliest quizzes you have ever taken, but it also used adjectives in a unique way: to ask questions. Here is another question for you: do you know what type of adjective we used in all of our quiz questions? It’s OK if you don’t know the answer, because you’re about to learn a lot more about these inquisitive adjectives that we call interrogative adjectives.

What is an interrogative adjective?

An interrogative adjective is an adjective that modifies a noun or pronoun in order to ask a question. For example,

 

  • Which color is your favorite?

In the above sentence, the adjective which modifies the noun color to ask someone what their favorite color is. If you know your adjectives, you’ll see that the word which is an adjective because it is modifying a noun. Of course, interrogative adjectives can also modify pronouns, too:

 

  • I have three cakes here. Which one do you want?

List of interrogative adjectives

There are only three interrogative adjectives. They are:

 

The word whose is also a possessive adjective, which means you may also see it used outside of questions:

 

  • I need to find out whose money this is.

Likewise, the words which and what have a variety of meanings and may not always be an adjective in a sentence.

Delve into the difference between whose and who’s here.

Where do you include an interrogative adjective in a sentence?

Because they are often used to introduce questions, interrogative adjectives are usually the first word of a sentence:

 

  • What town did they move to?
  • Which movie do you want to see?
  • Whose party are we going to?

However, interrogative adjectives can appear in the middle of sentences when used in indirect questions:

 

  • I forgot to ask her which dress I was supposed to buy.
  • Did he ask you whose car was parked in the yard?

Interrogative adjectives and determiners

Unlike nouns and verbs, the different categories of adjectives are often less defined. For example, many style guides or sources of grammar advice consider interrogative adjectives to actually be a class of words known as determiners, in which case they may be referred to as interrogative determiners or even just interrogatives.

Unlike many other adjectives, the interrogative adjectives which, what, and whose can also be used as pronouns as in What is this? Additionally, it doesn’t make any grammatical sense to use any of these words as comparative or superlative adjectives: something can be faster than something else but something can’t be “what-er” than something else.

While these qualities may support classifying interrogative adjectives as a different figure of speech, we consider what, which, and whose to be adjectives when they are used to modify nouns and pronouns. Not every style guide will take this approach, however, so don’t be surprised if you see these words not referred to as a type of adjective.

Interrogative adjective examples in a sentence

The following example sentences show how we use the adjectives whose, what, and which in sentences.

Whose

 

  • Whose lunch is this? (Whose modifies the noun lunch. It is used to ask who the lunch belongs to.)

What

 

  • What building is the meeting in? (What modifies the noun building. It is used to ask where the location of the meeting is.)

Which

 

  • Which bag is Amanda’s? (Which modifies the noun bag. It is used to ask for help identifying the bag that belongs to Amanda.)

Interrogative adjective rules & best practices

When it comes to interrogative adjectives, there are several things to watch out for.

As mentioned earlier, what, which, and whose are not used as comparative or superlative adjectives. It doesn’t make any sense to describe something as “whicher” or “the most whose.”

The adjectives what and which have slightly different meanings when used as interrogative adjectives. Typically, we use the word what when we are asking an open-ended question or no possible options are stated. On the other hand, we typically use the word which when specific options are stated or implied. For example,

 

  • What school did you go to? (The asker is not limiting the choices: any school is a possible answer.)
  • There are five houses on this street. Which house is yours? (The asker is limiting the possible answers to one of five houses.)

Learn more about limiting adjectives and what they include.

A common mistake that people make is to misspell the word whose as who’s. Whose is an interrogative (and possessive) adjective that refers to ownership. Who’s is a contraction that is short for who is or who has. The following two sentences show how to use these two words correctly:

 

  • Whose shirt is this?
  • I don’t know who’s (who is) going to be at the wedding.

Remember that the only interrogative adjectives are whose, what, and which. When used in questions, the interrogative words why, when, where, and how are adverbs and not adjectives. These words are typically not used to modify nouns or pronouns when used to ask questions. For example,

 

  • Adjective: Which bike should I ride? (Which modifies the noun bike. It is an adjective.)
  • Adverb: How late were you? (How modifies the adjective late. It is an adverb.)

Finally, it is possible to use the words what, which, and whose as pronouns in questions. If they are used this way, they are not acting as interrogative adjectives:

 

  • Adjective: What color was the bird? (What is an adjective that modifies the noun color.)
  • Pronoun: What is the answer? (What is a pronoun. It can stand alone in this sentence.)

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Another adjective worth understanding is the demonstrative adjective.

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