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6. Interrogative Pronouns

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Amber, Igor, and Miss Hamrick had lots of questions they wanted to ask, so they convened the Grammar Committee and devised ways to interrogate members of the tribe. First, they decided to form questions by including an auxiliary verb and then putting the auxiliary before the subject. Voila!

Are you going to the party? Will he visit your brother? Does Evan want a birthday present?

Pretty clever, our cave-dwelling Grammar Committee. Then they decided to borrow some of the relative pronouns to use for question-asking: who, whom, whose, and which. (The word that just didn’t work.) To this list they added the word what and came up with a list of interrogative pronouns:

Interrogative Pronouns, A List

Memorize the interrogative pronouns:

Interrogative   Pronoun Question
who Who’s on first?
whom Whom should we call?
whose Whose turn is it?
which Which runner won the race?
what What time is it?

 

Sensing that other shades of meanings might show up in questions posed by astute questioners, the committee then borrowed some adverbs: why, where, when, and how.

Adverbs for Asking Questions

Adverbs help us ask various questions:

Adverb Question
why Why did you retire so early?
where Where did Jim get his car?
when When will this nightmare ever end?
how How will this nightmare ever end?

 

The difference between relative pronouns and adverbs acting as interrogatives lies in the function they serve in the sentence. The pronoun will serve as a subject (who) or object (whom) or show possession (whose), as pronouns are wont to do. The adverb, not surprisingly, will act as an adverb. Let’s see these different functions:

Pronouns and Adverbs, Grammatical Function

Note the grammatical functions served by pronouns and adverbs in the these questions:

Pronoun or Adverb Grammatical Function Served
Who came to the party? Who acts as the subject of the verb came.
Whom should we call? Whom acts as the object of the verb call.
Whose position did he fill? Whose acts as the possessor of the noun position.
Where did Jim get his car? Where is an adverb modifying the verb get.

 

A final thought on the use of questions, for we have two kinds—direct and indirect. A direct question appears in quotation marks and ends with a question mark inside the closing quotation marks:

Fred asked, “Where did Jim get his car?”

Indirect questions are different. They appear as a statement, have no quotation marks, and don’t even end with a question mark:

Fred asked where Jim got his car.

The same is true for indirect questions that politely ask a favor:

Will you please send the report as soon as possible.

 

Previous: That vs. Which Next: 7. Reciprocal Pronouns

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