Consider these two sentences. A. Which museum did you visit? B. Which did you visit?

In the first case the word "which" functions as an adjective modifying museum and in the second an interrogative pronoun.

Why isn't it an adverb modifying "did visit" in the same way that the first one is an adjective?

  • 2
    'Which' in A is an interrogative determiner. It is used to determine the specific reference (rather than inherent attributes) of the museum in question, not to find out more about your visiting style (etc) per se. The second sentence assumes the word 'museum' from (needed) context, so stands in for (fulfils the grammatical requirements of) the noun in the first sentence. Collins brings out the fact that it also fulfils the determining role: which determiner 1. ... b. (as pronoun): which did you find? Nov 30, 2015 at 23:43
  • 2
    Just as a footnote to @EdwinAshworth's comment, Huddleston and Pullum's Cambridge Grammar of the English Language treats the which in B as a 'fused-head determiner' - that is, a determiner which implicitly incorporates the noun which it determines. Dec 1, 2015 at 0:12
  • @StoneyB I suppose 'decapitated noun phrase' was too much to hope for. Dec 1, 2015 at 9:46
  • @EdwinAshworth I think it's more like a turtle who's drawn her head inside her shell. Dec 1, 2015 at 12:48
  • @StoneyB You could write a new grammar. Dec 1, 2015 at 13:52

1 Answer 1


In A, "which museum" is a noun phrase and is the direct object of "visit". Within this noun phrase "which museum", "which" is the determiner and "museum" is the noun.

B is the same, except that "museum" has been omitted since it is, presumably, known from the context. That is, in B, "which" is a noun phrase and is the direct object of "visit".

It is ordinary for the noun of a noun phrase to be elided, leaving behind a determiner, when the noun can be figured out from context. "I visited two museums/I visited two." "I visited some museums/I visited some." "That lollipop costs too much/That costs too much." There is no need to make up some special name for the determiner of a noun phrase whose noun has been dropped because it can be figured out from context.

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