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Which is the most natural way to ask the question below? Are the replies correct? (Words in parentheses show that they are optional.)

Whose are these notebooks? - (Of) our students./These notebooks are of our students./These notebooks belong to our students./These are the notebooks of our students.

Whom do these notebooks belong to? - (To) our students.

To whom do these notebooks belong? - (To) our students.

Who do the notebooks belong to? - (To) our students.

As far as I know, to whom is a very formal expression. What about the rest?

What about the following question? Is to optional in the three replies?

To whom are you talking? - (To) our students.

Whom are you talking to? - (To) our students.

Who are you talking to? - (To) our students.

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But what about my replies? Are they right? – Monica May 21 '12 at 15:01

There are a lot of questions here, but to answer the first one, the most "natural" way to say this (to my ear) is:

Whose notebooks are these? / They are our students' notebooks.

Out of your choices, the last two questions are the most natural, the 3rd one being more correct but the last one being the more commonly heard.

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Even more natural would be "They're our students' (notebooks)". – Peter Shor May 21 '12 at 15:06
I rather strongly disagree with any notion of “more correct” here for the “To whom are you speaking?” case. It very much is not “more correct”. – tchrist May 21 '12 at 16:20
Where "more correct" means "less likely to call down the grammar harpies". – JeffSahol May 21 '12 at 16:28
@JeffSahol I love doing battle with ignorant grammar harpies. Their very existence is a blight upon the English language. They should be vociferously vanquished wherever they may be found, to put an end to the immense damage they do. They know nothing, and delight in showing off their poor education for all the world to ridicule. Shooting fish in a barrel gives more sport, though. – tchrist May 21 '12 at 17:01

The construction of our students, without something preceding it, is so unidiomatic as to be wrong. They are the books of our students is right thugh cumbersome; *they are of our students should be avoided.

?Whom are you talking to? is not used, largely because anyone formal enough to use whom will usually avoid ending a sentence with a preposition. (This is a highly controversial point, and I really don't want to restart the argument; I am merely making a point about common usage. My own view, for what it's worth, is that the practice is certainly not always wrong, but is confusing and ugly enough to make it worth advising learners to avoid it.)

And the to in your last answers is both grammatical and idiomatic, though optional. As a point of logic, it might be taken as *I am talking to to our students, but not in the real world.

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This isn’t Latin: In English, a “preposition” is a perfectly fine thing to end a sentence with. It’s actually an adverbial particle, not a Latin preposition. Aren’t you coming with? Did you have your dog put down? I don’t think I want to put that on. Please come in. Do sit down. Please go inside. It won’t fit between. – tchrist May 21 '12 at 16:12

This one is both correct and natural-sounding.

Whose are these notebooks?

Yes, the to's may be implied in the response.

Don't forget that it is technically illegal to end sentences with prepositions.

To whom are you talking?

Is the only other completely correct question, for it doesn't end with a preposition, and it uses who / whom correctly.

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Technically illegal? I believe the grammar police were disbanded after the House of Lords decision in Strunk and White vs Shakespeare and others. – TimLymington May 21 '12 at 14:32
You can never be too safe. – Quasiperfect May 21 '12 at 14:42
There’s nothing whatoso<INFIX EXPLETIVE>ever wrong with ending a sentence with a word that can also be a preposition in English. As @TimLymington implies, it’s sheer nonsense. – tchrist May 21 '12 at 16:16
Really. These zombie rules need to be stomped on whenever they pop. And "Whose are these notebooks?" is not natural-sounding. That would be "Whose notebooks are these?" with pied-piping. – John Lawler May 21 '12 at 16:27
@tchrist: that is neither what I implied nor what I think. My comment meant only that rules of usage are not externally enforced; my view (including that this is not the place) is in my answer. – TimLymington May 21 '12 at 17:50

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