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On an online typing tutor site I came across the following phrase:

We're now going to move on to words who's first letter originates on the top row.

Can "who" normally be used in this way (to refer not only to people)?

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up vote 16 down vote accepted

Well, no. The sentence which you quoted must be a typo of:

We’re now going to move on to words whose first letter originates on the top row.

for the following two reasons.

  1. The word “who” only refers to living beings. For non-living beings, “which” is used instead.
  2. The word “who’s” is the contraction of either “who is” or “who has”, but either way, “who’s first letter originates on the top row” is incorrect because it contains two verbs.

The relative pronoun “whose” can refer to non-living beings.

As an aside, I doubt that “(whose) first letter originates on the top row” is a usual way to state that the first letter in a word is in the top row of the keyboard. However, I will not try to write more about it because I am not completely sure and this is not the topic of this question anyway.

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+1 You beat me to it :) – b.roth Nov 7 '10 at 19:37
"Whose" is used in these situations because "words in which the first letter originates" or "words the first letter of which originates" are both somewhat stilted. Not to mention the awkward use of the word "originate" in this sentence. – Jon Purdy Nov 9 '10 at 18:05

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