If you want to know whether a pronoun is an interrogative pronoun, just ask. No, really! An interrogative pronoun is used when asking questions or finding out more information. Keep reading for the definition of an interrogative pronoun, words that are easily mistaken for interrogative pronouns, and a helpful grammar exercise for practice.
Defining an Interrogative Pronoun
An interrogative pronoun often stands for something you are not aware of yet, because you are asking about it. You use these pronouns specifically to ask questions. The five main interrogative pronouns in English are:
- what (subject or object pronoun that asks about a thing)
- which (subject or object pronoun that asks about a person or thing)
- who (subject pronoun that asks about a person)
- whom (object pronoun that asks about a person)
- whose (possessive pronoun that asks about a person)
Like all pronouns, interrogative pronouns stand in for a noun. The nouns they stand in for are called antecedents, and the antecedents are the answers to the question. You’ll find interrogative pronouns in sentences like these:
What is that?
Answer: It is a sweater. (What replaces sweater, the subject in the nominative case)
Which is better?
Answer: The red one is better. (Which replaces the red one, the subject)
- Who is calling?
Answer: Linda is calling. (Who replaces Linda, the subject)
- Whom did you invite?
Answer: I invited Linda (Whom replaces Linda, the object)
- Whose is this?
Answer: It is Linda’s. (Whose replaces Linda’s, the possessive noun)
The answers to these questions are either people (who/whom/whose) or objects (what/which). In casual writing, which can be used for people. The words whatever, whichever, whoever, and whomever are also considered interrogative pronouns, though they are less common.
Interrogative Pronouns vs. Relative Pronouns
When interrogative pronouns appear in sentences that are not questions, they are no longer interrogative pronouns. Instead, they’re relative pronouns, which connect a noun and another clause. Whom, whose, who, and which are relative pronouns, and instead of what, you’d use that.
- Yvonne chose chocolate cake, which is her favorite flavor. (which connects chocolate cake and is her favorite flavor).
- The student who scores the highest on the quiz gets a special treat. (who connects student with scores the highest)
- I talked to the teacher whom I trust the most. (whom connects teacher with I trust the most)
- The person whose car was stolen has filed a report. (whose connects person with car was stolen)
- My brother enjoys games that require teamwork. (that connects games with require teamwork)
These relative pronouns are now linking words, almost (but not exactly) like conjunctions. Keep in mind that even though the interrogative words are present, they are not working as interrogative pronouns in these types of sentences.
Interrogative Pronouns vs. Interrogative Determiners
It’s easy to mistake interrogative pronouns for interrogative determiners. Unlike pronouns, determiners modify a noun or pronoun that is already provided in the sentence. Whose, what, and which are interrogative determiners when there is a noun or pronoun present.
- Whose shirt is this?
- What movie should we watch?
- Which car is better?
These words are no longer acting like pronouns because they are modifying the nouns (shirt, movie, car). Removing the nouns forces the determiners to act like pronouns again. Understanding the difference between interrogative pronouns and interrogative determiners can be the difference between writing open-ended questions and questions with a set number of responses.
Interrogative Pronouns vs. Interrogative Adverbs
There are several other words that start with wh-, but watch out! Not all wh- words are interrogative pronouns. Where, when, why, and how are interrogative adverbs. They modify the verbs in their sentences.
- Where did Andrea go? (where modifies go)
- When do you have to wake up tomorrow? (when modifies wake up)
- Why are you crying? (why modifies crying)
- How does this blender work? (how modifies work)
These interrogative adverbs are important parts of questions, especially because they’re part of the 5 W’s. But they are not interrogative pronouns because they are not pronouns. They don’t replace any nouns in the sentence.
Examples of Interrogative Pronouns
Below are a few examples of interrogative pronouns being used correctly in questions. Notice how they replace nouns in each example, and don’t modify other nouns or verbs.
- What is your favorite?
- Who did you call?
- Whoever would have taken it?
- Whose did you buy?
- Whatsoever do you mean by that?
- Whom were you speaking with last night?
- Which did you choose?
- Who is that?
- What will you do?
- Whom should I choose?
Interrogative Pronoun Exercise
See if you can identify interrogative pronouns. Determine whether the following sentences include an interrogative pronoun (IP), interrogative determiner (ID), interrogative adverb (IA), or relative pronoun (RP). Be careful: just because it starts with a “w” does not mean it is an interrogative pronoun. The correct answers are listed after the sample sentences.
- 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!”
Interrogative Pronoun Exercise Answers
Check the answers to see if you understand the differences between interrogative pronouns, interrogative determiners, interrogative adverbs, and relative pronouns.
Interrogative Pronouns Make Sense
Without interrogative pronouns, you wouldn’t be able to ask for more information or clarifying details. They help people communicate and make sense of the world. To see these pronouns in context, take a look at some examples of interrogative sentences, also known as questions.