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Backgroundstory:

Working in Germany: So I had my first mandatory english lesson for my job, which is mostly targeted on the right vocabulary for our work. After the instructor introduced himself we were asked to tell a little about ourselfs, in 1-2 sentences.

She said: "... I also love taking care of my puppies whom I love more than anyone else. ..."

The instructor immediatly corrected her: "which you love more than anything else"

I do understand why he would correct her, given that puppies are animals and therfore are "things". But I believe she used the more personal approach because she wanted to make clear how much she loves her pets.

My Question: In a normal conversation between co-workers or friends, would her way of saying it be unusual or noticiably worse than the "correct" way? Would it be acceptable?

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    It's acceptable in my ears; perhaps a more creative use of language than the instructor expected. I find it emphasises that she respects the puppies as autonomous beings. If someone said 'I love my i-phone more than anyone else' I'd find it strange, but maybe that will change too one day. – S Conroy Sep 17 '18 at 21:20
  • @SConroy But even still, it doesn't sound so weird to hear. Yes, we know an iPhone is inanimate but if someone loves an item more than people then it wouldn't be so farfetched. This is, of course, up for literary debate. – psosuna Sep 21 '18 at 21:31
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    @psosuna: You may be missing a subtle point.  I wouldn’t blink if somebody said “I love my iPhone more than anyone.”  OK, it’s a little awkward (and a little ambiguous). But, by adding a word and saying “I love my iPhone more than anyone else”, the speaker seems to be ascribing personhood (to use Jason Bassford’s words) to the electronic device.  ISTM that we ascribe malice to electronics (“Why are you so slow? Why won’t you do what I want?”) more often than we elevate them to the class of cats, dogs, and other personable animals (i.e., furry little people). – Scott Sep 22 '18 at 4:34
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    @Scott Good point. I'll admit I did read it internally as "I love my iPhone more than anyone," without the else. The dangers of reading what you want to read and not what's on the page... – psosuna Sep 24 '18 at 15:42
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Many people who use whose (or whom) rather than that (or which) when talking about pets or anything to which they ascribe emotions, animus, and other kinds of "personhood." (That's certainly true of the student's comparison of her puppies to anyone else.)

Not only is it commonly acceptable to use who, whose, or whom with pets, but whose can also be used with inanimate objects.

From Mignon Fogarty's "Pronouns for People and Animals: "Who" or "That"?":

The Associated Press provides useful guidance about animals, presumably because their writers find themselves writing about pets often enough to need clarification. The AP Stylebook recommends using the pronouns “it” and “that” for animals unless you know the animal’s sex or the animal has a name.

For example, if you were writing about a cat and you didn’t know much about it, you’d write something like “The cat that was stuck in the tree peed on the firefighters.”

If the cat had a name, you’d write something like “Fluffy, the cat who was stuck in the tree, peed on the firefighters.”

If you only knew that it was a female or you were just using pronouns, you’d write something like “The cat who was stuck in the tree meowed at her owner.”

In contrast, however, she does mention that other style guides give different guidance:

For example, APA style has different recommendations. They want you to always use “that” when you refer to animals such as cats and rats, not “who.” This is just a guess, but I wonder whether the APA might stick with “that” for animals because, unlike Associated Press writers, APA writers are most often writing about lab animals instead of pets. Regardless, it’s important to remember that even though the general rules are flexible, the rules may be more rigid if you’re following a specific style guide, so be sure to check.

Finally, she goes on to talk about inanimate objects:

Occasionally, people think or have been taught that they can’t use “whose” for objects, but the style guides are clear that it’s fine. In fact, Merriam-Webster says, “The notion that ‘whose’ may not properly be used of anything except persons is a superstition.”

If it bothers you though, you can always rewrite the sentence. “The table whose legs were broken” can become something like “the table with the broken legs” or “the table that had broken legs.”


I find that last example particularly interesting:

The table whose legs were broken.

I've seen and used constructions like this on multiple occasions and haven't observed it to be a problem.


More on this is said in "Whosetrionics" at Grammarphobia:

“Whose” was first recorded in the late 800s, when it was written in Old English as hwæs, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. In those times, it was the genitive case of both “who” (hwa) and “what” (hwæt), the OED says.

During the Middle English period (roughly 1100-1400), the spelling of “whose” shifted a lot, from hwas to the later hwos and whos. During this same period—in the 1300s—people began using “whose” as the genitive form of “which” as well as “who.”

. . . In A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (1926), Henry Fowler vigorously condemned the taboo against using “whose” for things:

“Let us, in the name of common sense, prohibit the prohibition of whose inanimate; good writing is surely difficult enough without the forbidding of things that have historical grammar, & present intelligibility, & obvious convenience, on their side, & lack only—starch.”

The current Fowler’s Modern English Usage (rev. 3rd ed.), by R. W. Burchfield, says the notion that “whose” is limited to people is a “folk-belief.”


So, the only real prohibition against using these words is not one of grammar per se, but one of personal preference and the particular style followed. There is no universal "correct" way, only the way that you follow.

  • personal preference is opinion based and the question should be closed – green_ideas Sep 18 '18 at 1:57
  • great answer! Thank you. I personally would agree with Mignon Fogarty, it just feels right. Maybe the instructor just didn't have a good connection with pets in general. – Pudora Sep 18 '18 at 11:03
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    @Pudora Many editors and grammarians would have been fine with her wording. While the instructor had a valid observation, I don't think it was a sound immediate correction. I would have been more impressed by her use of whom rather than who. – Jason Bassford Supports Monica Sep 18 '18 at 13:55
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    @knotell The decision on how to use "whose" may be opinion-based, but the answer to the question (and thereby the question itself) is not. There is no grounds for closing the question. – T.J.L. Sep 18 '18 at 17:28

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