Henry, I think you brought another discussion to this topic:
Whose vs of which
See what The Grammar Girl says :
Whose Versus of Which
Some sticklers prefer you use whose to refer to animate antecedents only, but Fowler’s refers to this preference as a “folk-belief” (3). Fowler himself wrote in 1926, “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, and present intelligibility, and obvious convenience, on their side….” These folk-believers think you should substitute the phrase of which for whose. I’ve been trying to reword that Milton quotation by using of which, but I can’t manage to create a palatable sentence. I’m having the same trouble rewording both of Mike’s examples: “The car whose windshield wipers…” and “The tree whose leaves…”
In some cases, you might be able to use of which, but most of the time your sentence will sound stilted and your sentence flow will be ruined. The three major sources I referred to all agree that of which is not an ideal solution to the whose conundrum (1, 2, 3). The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style states, “This is one case in which the cure could be worse than the disease.” Funny how it didn’t state it this way: “This is one case whose cure could be worse than the disease.”
Should You Avoid Using Whose?
Sometimes, the best way to deal with this problem is to reword the sentence to avoid whose altogether. Let’s try this out on one of Mike’s sentences: “The car whose windshield wipers weren't working was driving in the fast lane.” You could rewrite this in a number of ways, but I like “Although the car’s windshield wipers weren’t working, it was driving in the fast lane.”
If you want to use whose to refer back to an inanimate antecedent, go ahead and use it. If, on the other hand, you choose to rewrite sentences to avoid using whose to refer to inanimate antecedents, check that your sentences flow nicely together. I do discourage you from using of which unless you’re sure the sentence doesn’t sound too awkward. And, of course, be sure to spell whose W-H-O-S-E, not W-H-O-apostrophe-S, which is a contraction of who is.
See also the way she answered a question about whose for things.
The car whose windshield wipers weren't working was driving in the fast lane. The tree whose leaves were falling seems to be dying. Whose seems like it must refer to a person or animal but not to a car or a tree, and it does not sound correct. Is it correct to use whose in this manner? And is there perhaps a better way to construct the above sentences?
Thanks for your question, Mike. If you used whose in those two sentences, you’d be in the same company as Shakespeare, Milton, and Wordsworth—all famous writers (1). You might, however, annoy a few modern complainers who think you should use whose to refer to people and animals only.
Whose to Refer to People and Animals
Whose is the possessive form of both who and which (2). It makes sense to say that whose is the possessive form of who because who is in the word. As you know, you use who to refer to a person or sometimes an animal, and this person or animal you’re referring to is called an “animate antecedent.” “Animate” refers to living people and animals (but not plants), such as my son, Jake, or his pet fish, Gary. An “antecedent” is a word that you’re referring back to. So in the sentence “Jake fed Gary, whose favorite food was dried worms,” “Gary” is the antecedent of whose.
Whose to Refer to Inanimate Objects
There is no dispute about using whose to refer to a person or animal. There is, however, some argument about whether it’s OK to use whose to refer to something that’s not a person or animal: a car or a tree, for instance. That’s what Mike was asking about: whether it’s OK to use whose to refer to what’s known as an “inanimate antecedent.” Cars and trees are not alive in the same sense as people and animals. Of course trees are living plants, but plants are considered inanimate. I guess they can’t talk or communicate in an animated fashion.
In short, Mike is perfectly right when he uses whose to refer to tree. Although some people don’t like it, whose is the only English word we have to refer to inanimate antecedents. Perhaps someone will invent a new word for this purpose, but as of now we’re stuck with whose. Going all the way back to the 14th century, you’ll find many literary examples of authors referring back to an inanimate antecedent (1). Fowler’s quotes Milton’s Paradise Lost: “Of man’s first disobedience, and the fruit Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste Brought death into the world…” (3).
Of Which vs Whose
We can use “of which” instead of “whose” for the objects but “of which” is used in non-defining relative clauses.
This is the machine. I described its properties.
This is the machine whose properties I described.
This is the machine, the properties of which I described.
I stayed at a good hotel. It’s facilities are fabulous.
I stayed at a good hotel whose facilities are fabulous.
I stayed at a good hotel the facilities of which are fabulous.