A term in traditional grammar for a pronoun that introduces a question.
The five interrogative pronouns in English are who, whom, whose, which, and what.
Examples and Observations:
- Who are you?
- "Even if you do learn to speak correct English, whom are you going to speak it to?"
- "When a man tells you that he got rich through hard work, ask him: 'Whose?'"
- Which color do you prefer?
- "I got a belt on that's holding up my pants, and the pants have belt loops that hold up the belt. What is going on here? Who is the real hero?"
- "Notice that an interrogative pronoun will never have an antecedent. Since it asks a question, there is no way to know which noun an interrogative pronoun refers to. The antecedent remains a mystery until the question is answered."
(M. Strumpf and A. Douglas, The Grammar Bible. Owl Books, 2004)
- What versus Which
What is used when specific information is requested from a general or open-ended possible range. Which is used when specific information is requested from a restricted range of possibilities:
A. I've got your address. What's your phone number?However, where the number of options is shared knowledge among speakers and listeners, what + noun is often used in informal contexts. Here, what is an interrogative pronoun used as a determiner:
B. Oh it's 267358.
(an open-ended range of possible information)
[looking at a pile of coats]
A. Which is your coat?
B. That black one.
[talking about a shop](R. Carter and M. McCarthy, Cambridge Grammar of English: A Comprehensive Guide. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2006)
What side of the street is it on, left or right?
(or: Which side of the street is it on?)
A: Did you see that documentary about the SARS virus last night?
B; No, what channel was it on?
(or: Which channel was it on?)