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I would appreciate your help phrasing the following:

I am looking for elements which/whose/... size/sizes is/are relatively large.

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As a native speaker, I'm pretty sure I have never encountered sentences of the form "the car which door got scratched". Can you dig up any links or references where you saw this? – Rahul Jan 18 '11 at 15:09
@Rahul: I concur with this. "Whose" is correct here. – Noldorin Jan 18 '11 at 15:32
Perhaps those who recommended "which" actually meant "of which", which is an acceptable alternative to "whose". – Cerberus Jan 18 '11 at 21:03
@Cerberus perhaps that's why people confuse them, but it's not always a drop-in replacement and sometimes requires a change in the word order. – romkyns Jan 19 '11 at 0:37
@Cerberus: I agree. There is an old, dead superstition about using "whose" for animate objects and "of which" for inanimate objects. Merriam Webster's Dictionary of English Usage quotes an American grammarian who said, "Grammarians would perhaps differ less, if they read more." :-) – Tragicomic Jan 19 '11 at 9:23
up vote 13 down vote accepted

Whose is the way to go here. Merriam-Webster defines it as follows:

of or relating to whom or which especially as possessor or possessors

Which wouldn't work, because it doesn't indicate possession. It would work, however, if the phrase read:

I am looking for elements which are relatively large (in size).

As to the "size is" vs "sizes are", I would say that both are grammatically correct, though the singular is preferred. The Google stats look as follows:

  • "are * whose sizes are" — 94,700
  • "are * whose size is" — 1,020,000

Searching the British National Corpus returns four results for "whose size is" (one of which is actually used with a plural noun, "segments whose size is"), but none for "whose sizes are".

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I'd just go with "which are relatively large". – Benjol Oct 13 '10 at 11:59

The word you need is whose.

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Indeed, whose is the (only) correct possessive form, for both animate (sentient) and inanimate objects.

The Wikipedia page supports this.

In addition, the possessive version of the non-sentient pronouns is the same as that of who: whose takes this role for all of them. E.g., "I will have to fix the car whose engine I ruined".

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Posts like this one (suggesting that "whose" on inanimate objects is dubious) are also responsible for seeding doubt in my mind. Thanks for clarifying this once and for all :) – romkyns Jan 18 '11 at 15:39
Glad to help. And yeah, there is definitely some wrong information out there about the subject. (I was always taught to use whose in all cases, thankfully.) – Noldorin Jan 18 '11 at 15:59
@romkyns: Yes, I don't often use the word "wrong" in reference to language, but that post you referenced is plain wrong. – Colin Fine Jan 18 '11 at 18:05
I'm debating (with myself, natch) if I should -1 for making Wikipedia sound authoritative. ;-) – Jürgen A. Erhard Jan 18 '11 at 21:06

Using "whose" in such cases is correct. This thread over at the Daily Writing Tips forum addresses your question: Possessive form of "which".

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