English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

For context, this is based on a discussion here (http://ell.stackexchange.com/questions/1439/is-the-construction-whose-each-correct)

The original question was whether the following was grammatical:

"The set of elements whose each pair is ...".

The majority opinion on that question was then that this was ungrammatical (or at least unusual), however there seems to be some disagreement as to why.

So my question is this:

Under what circumstances is the construction "whose each" valid within a sentence, and what are the governing grammatical rules for such a construction?

share|improve this question
@FumbleFingers: I'm sorry if that's how you see it as coming across - that really wasn't my intention. Your answer on ELL includes the sentence "I can't exactly explain why "every" is better than "each" here". I'm happy that you're right (I'm not contesting that here). I just want to know WHY you're right - and that's a discussion better suited to ELU than to ELL. I'm sorry if you feel that this is inappropriate (feel free to flag it if you do), but from my perspective this is a genuine question that is for ELU, is different to the ELL question, and isn't intended as a personal slight on you. – Matt Feb 13 '13 at 23:45
Appealing to higher authorities than the editorial staffs at the Encyclopedia of British Writers, 1800 to Present and New Scientist might be countenanced, but when one starts querying usages by mathematicians ... - although I'd expect "The set of elements which are pairwise ..." (if I am extrapolating correctly from the abbreviated submission). – Edwin Ashworth Feb 13 '13 at 23:52
@Edwin: The issue is not one of possible alternative phrasings you might prefer - it's a matter of whether the cited usage is in fact grammatical. Or, since I personally consider that to be a "non-issue", the matter of why many people apparently think it's somehow "ungrammatical". – FumbleFingers Feb 14 '13 at 0:25
@PeterShor: What do mathematicians know about grammar? They say "I is the square root of minus one" rather than the obviously more grammatical "I am the square root of minus one" :) – Matt Feb 14 '13 at 0:47
@PeterShor: How to decide whether it's grammatical? - Why! Ask ELU of course! That's the whole point of this question. There's lots of esoteric grammar rules that ELU members know better than I, and the whole point of this question is to spark a discussion in the answers so someone says "Yes, it's valid because it fits the old English grammar rule X or Y" or "No, it's not because it violates grammar rule Z". To be clear: noting that some people write "whose each" is not what I want (because lots of people write all sorts of things). I want to know if it is grammatical, and if so why? – Matt Feb 14 '13 at 17:35
up vote 5 down vote accepted

Under exactly the conditions that you have in the question.

Whose is used as a relative pronoun, to introduce a clause that describes something belonging to the noun phrase it follows.

Now, there are some people do object to the adjective senses of whose being used of inanimate antecedents, based on the mistaken belief that it comes solely from who, when it comes from whos which comes from hwæs which was the genitive of both hwa (who) and hwæt(what). The objection flies in the face of much eloquent usage, and is also rarer now.

Each is a determiner, it refers to all of the examples of the thing that will be named, so that what is stated of them singularly applies to every one of them.

We have "each pair is". Generally, those things covered by each are treated as singular, unless each follows a plural subject, in which case they are treated as plural, with a further exception allowing (some would say not, while some would say insisting, it's here we enter into a matter of debate) if the plural subject is the pronoun we.

Here we do not have each following a plural subject, so the singular should be used, and so it is. Again, we're fine.

Putting them together we have a noun phrase "The set of elements" followed by a relative pronoun, followed by a determiner which insists upon singular use of what follows, followed by a singular use.

It is perfectly grammatical. Looking for objections to different uses of the words involved, we find that not only are there none, there aren't even questionable objections to argue against.

Now, it is relatively rare. It's common here to use where instead of whose, which ironically is a use that does frequently find objectors saying where can only refer to place, literally or figurative.

It's common to use every or all. However each conveys a sense of precision; it's merely a side-effect of every being treated plural and each being treated singularly leading to a sense that we are focusing on each item rather than making a more sweeping statement, and there's no real lack of precision with every, but that impression is worth making in technical cases like mathematics.

And for that reason, it is relatively common in such contexts.

About the only possible objection I can see to this as a whole, is that the form "[Noun]1 of [Noun]2s whose each [Noun]3 is..." could be ambiguous as to whether it is [Noun]1 or its [Noun]2s that possesses the [Noun]3s that are being described.


  1. It would generally be clear from context; ambiguous forms are only a problem if they result in ambiguous reading, otherwise we can object to just about every bare expression as leaving out some information and hence being ambiguous.
  2. It would lean heavily toward our interpreting it as saying that it is the [Noun]2s that have the [Noun]3s (in the example, the elements that have the pairs). Only if that reading was both incorrect, and it being incorrect was not clear from context, do we have a problem.
  3. In this case we have the form "The set of [Noun]2s whose [Noun]3s..." since it's extremely common to define sets in terms of the properties of its elements, we're led very strongly to the understanding that it is elements that have pairs. All the more so since the word used for the elements is element (now if that was element in another sense, that would be ambiguous, but in a totally different way).
  4. Unless we have another context to explain some special meaning of set, then the reading of the set having the pairs makes no meaning, and so will be instantly dismissed, leaving us with no ambiguity.

So that possible objection clearly doesn't apply here. It's also not a question of grammaticality.

In all, the form is not just grammatical, and reasonably common in the domain it is used in, but a good choice.

[Taking a look at the question on ELL, it seems that the problem was that it wasn't ambiguous enough, as what they meant was "set whose each pair of elements", which is neither of the readings I suggest are possible with the form, but that's a separate issue].

share|improve this answer
I don't think the grammaticality of whose each pair is affected by whether the set elements are pairs. Any two consecutive elements are a "pair" for the OP's purposes, and there's nothing wrong with that. It's disappointing to see that after all this time, the manifestly wrong answer to the ELL version remains by far the highest-rated. – FumbleFingers Jun 19 '13 at 3:05
@FumbleFingers Well, that's not really true. The objection is not as Jon describes, so the answer here hasn't addressed the central problem. The problem's about using two central determiners together for the same noun. Now this used to be ok a few hundred years ago, but in modern English it's ungrammatical. Jon mentions that whose is a relative pronoun, and it can be but it's a relative possessive pronoun like his or her. It's nothing like where. Where would be fine because it functions like an adjunct/adverbial. So is does not represent any kind of possessive noun. However, ... – Araucaria Jun 13 '15 at 11:59
@FumbleFingers I would perhaps say that it does survive in a few archaic fossilised forms in some specific registers. For example, you can find it a lot in Indian English maths text books and people who've read a lot of old maths texts might be familiar with it. So would be people who've read the bible as well as people who read poetry from the sixteen hundreds, like Dryden for example ;). Here's a quote from OED ... – Araucaria Jun 13 '15 at 12:05
@f ... "The co-occurrence rules for determiners were somewhat different from those in later modern English. Notably common was the sequence of demonstrative + possessive + noun (‘this your son’)." Is it acceptable in modern English outsideof the specific register of maths textbooks, more specifically geometry)? I think no. Certainly I find ""I would like to know sets of at least 3 words, whose each pair of words are false friends" ungrammatical. – Araucaria Jun 13 '15 at 12:11
@Araucaria: It's surprising how many people add an extra determiner when quoting The Godfather's on this the day of my daughter's wedding, which I agree is at the very least dated/stilted. But I've no problem with ...whose each and every move was monitored, and I don't see any real difference between that and the usage in question here. It might present semantic issues, but the grammaticality itself is fine by me. – FumbleFingers Jun 13 '15 at 12:34

It doesn't really work well in contemporary English. Whose and each are both determiners, which both expect a noun to follow. Granted, they each act like adjectives, and you can often use more than one adjective in succession (e.g., the big green coat). Even so, pairing doesn't always work quite so well with determiners: these whose, the lots of and my any are all ungrammatical.

Even if whose each is grammatical, it is uncommon and perhaps, a bit too archaic to use without loosing some of the intended meaning on potential audiences. However that may be, whose every is both grammatical and pretty common, which would work quite nicely as a concise alternative to the awkward wording of whose each.

You can find examples from early modern English or other more archaic variations of the language where whose acts more like which or whom, which might explain the more common use of whose every, where both whose and every could be defined as determiners.

Whose each continues to show up in publications, but it's most frequently in math textbooks where formal concerns dealing with precise definitions are common. Otherwise, it's rare syntactic usage which could come across as accidental. Something along the lines of in which each, for which each or of which each should be a pretty good fix for the case of anything current.

The more concise fix would be whose every, which is much more common in English than whose each, but it seems to work best with nouns that express motion or continuity. For example:

"Whose every" + move, turn, jerk, jump or curve would work out alright.
"Whose every" + kink might also work in the context of a sudden change in velocity but not so much in the sense of a discontinuity found in a Cartesian graph of an algebraic function.

Whose every side doesn't work as well because sides are static.
Whose every line works but mostly just in the context of a an actor's lines (maybe a bread line).

The issue with every and the idea of nouns involving motion or continuity stems from the verb which ends the example phrase, "The set of elements whose each pair is."

Consider what comes after the is: an adjective/adjective clause, a participle or a passive voice construction:

"whose every pair is red" doesn't work so well.(a comparative like bigger might work better)
"whose every pair is broken by an opposing set" sounds a little better
"whose every pair is hopping across the field" works alright, I suppose.

Common usage could also have something to do with the prevailing meaning of the post determiner though (or the noun that the pair of determiners modify, for that matter):

The young man, whose last beer was one too many, is looking rather pale.

share|improve this answer
In the case of math textbooks, it's kinda like trying to be formal by employing archaic forms which have fallen into disuse. – Adam Feb 15 '13 at 3:38
I wonder how many of the old English ones are actually using the old sentence ordering (which matches modern German sentence ordering), and the "each" is next to "whose" because the verb went to the end of the sentence, e.g. "In whose each part all tongues may dwell", which re-arranges using the modern English sentence order as "All tongues may dwell in each of it's parts"? – Matt Feb 15 '13 at 3:47
So why is "whose every" grammatical? Isn't "every" also a determiner? – Peter Shor Feb 15 '13 at 4:28
The other obvious place where "whose each" works is for example "The solo was performed by the mezzo-soprano, whose each and every note filled the concert hall", although in this case "each and every" appears to be an idiomatic emphasis rather than as a determiner – Matt Feb 15 '13 at 9:34
@Matt, I'd say in all cases "each and every" is both a determiner and an idiom used for emphasis; it's tautologous, but like many tautologous idioms, is used for emphasis. – Jon Hanna Feb 15 '13 at 12:46

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.