What Is An Interrogative Pronoun? Definition And Examples

Who is your best friend? What is your favorite food? Which of the colors of the rainbow is your favorite? One final question: what is a pronoun? If you are a grammar master, you already know that a pronoun is a word that we use to replace a noun. Pronouns show up in a lot of our sentences, including questions. A type of pronoun known as an interrogative pronoun is always looking for answers. If all of these questions have got you wondering what an interrogative pronoun is, then all you need to do is read on.

What is an interrogative pronoun?

An interrogative pronoun is a pronoun used to ask a question. For example, the word who is an interrogative pronoun in the sentence Who are you? Like most other pronouns, interrogative pronouns replace nouns in sentences. In the case of interrogative pronouns, they typically replace whatever or whoever the answer to the question is. For example:

 

  • What is a pineapple? A pineapple is a fruit.
  • Who built this shed? Carl built this shed.

Usually, an interrogative pronoun is the first word in an interrogative sentence, which always ends in a question mark. A sentence that is using an interrogative pronoun to ask an indirect question may not end in a question mark:

 

  • I wonder who will come tomorrow.
  • She asked us what we wanted for lunch.

List of interrogative pronouns

The five most commonly used interrogative pronouns are who, whom, whose, what, and which. Less commonly, longer forms of these words ending in -ever are also used: whoever, whomever, whosever, whatever, and whichever. As interrogative pronouns, these variants may be used for emphasis or to express surprise. All of these pronouns can act as singular or plural words depending on what they are referring to.

Who and whom

Who and whom are used to ask questions where the answer is expected to be a person. Who is used as a subject, and whom is used as an object. (More on this later!)

Whose 

Whose is used to ask questions about possessions, ownership, or a relationship.

What

What is used to ask a question where the answer is expected to be an object or abstract concept.

Which

Which is used to ask questions where there are multiple choices or possibilities as to what the answer could be.

Examples of interrogative pronouns

Let’s look at how we use each of the interrogative pronouns in sentences.

Who and whom

 

  • Who took the towel?
  • Who will win the championship?
  • Whom did you give the key to?
  • Whom did the police suspect of the crime?

Find more details on the differences and uses of who and whom.

Whose

 

  • I found this purse. Whose is this?
  • There are shoes by the door. Whose are they?
  • Look at that big house over there. Whose is it?

What

 

  • What is love?
  • What are those flowers called?
  • What are we going to do?

Which

 

  • Which of these cookies do you want?
  • She either cleaned her room or she didn’t. Which is it?
  • We can go to the beach or the park. Which sounds more fun?

Interrogative pronouns as other parts of speech

Depending on how they are used in sentences, the words who, whom, whose, what, and which can be classified as other types of words besides interrogative pronouns. The words who, whom, whose, and which can also be used as relative pronouns. Relative pronouns are used to introduce relative clauses and not to ask questions. For example, the word who is a relative pronoun in the sentence I am looking for the man who sent the letter.

Additionally, the words whose and which can be used as interrogative adjectives. Interrogative adjectives modify nouns and aren’t used by themselves as subjects or objects. For example,

 

  • Interrogative pronoun: Which is the right answer? (Which is used alone.)
  • Interrogative adjective: Which answer is right? (Which modifies the noun answer.)

If you’d like to learn more about interrogative adjectives, we have a thorough explanation of them.

How to use interrogative pronouns

Usually, interrogative pronouns are the first word used in questions:

 

  • Who was that?
  • What is her favorite color?

However, it is possible to use an interrogative pronoun later in a question:

 

  • You gave the money to whom?
  • Excuse me? You used what to make this ice cream?

An interrogative pronoun can be either singular or plural, but its appearance won’t change if it is being used as one or the other. However, it must still follow subject-verb agreement when used in a sentence:

 

  • What is your phone number?
  • What are the missing letters?

It can be helpful to flip an interrogative sentence around to figure out if you need a singular or plural verb:

 

  • Who (is/are) these guys? These guys (is/are) who?

Who and Whom

A common grammar mistake that people make is confusing who and whom. Who is used as the subject of sentences or clauses, and whom is used as the object of sentences, clauses, or prepositional phrases.

A simple trick to knowing which of these pronouns to use is to swap in the word he or him. If it makes sense to use he, you can use who. If it makes sense to substitute him, you can use whom. (Hint: They both end in M.) For example,

 

  • ___  is the boss? It makes sense to say He is the boss but it doesn’t make sense to say Him is the boss. So, we would use the word who.
  • ___ did Maria call? Interrogative sentences can be tricky because things often get flipped around. This question is asking for the identity of the person that Maria called. When answering this question, it doesn’t make sense to say Maria called he, but it does make sense to say Maria called him. So, we use whom.

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Get up close to this review of personal pronouns.