Here’s a grammatical question I have had lately:
The first sentence should seem fairly pedestrian and intelligible..
“The sales associate, whose business card I have at home, did a great job showing the elegance and sophistication of Mac OS X”
In this statement, the clause in the appositive (the bit between commas) modifies the subject, “the sales associate”. Now we refer to people by “who” and object by “what” or “which”. Therefore “whose” is based off of “who” and corresponds to a statement about a person.
My question comes about when speaking in a parallel construction as the above about an inanimate object.
“The new server in the data center, __ IP address I need, runs the elegant and fast Mac OS X.”
“The new server in the data center, the IP address of which I need, runs the elegant and fast Mac OS X”.
Yes, that works, but gets a bit clumsy. What oh what could be the word that goes in that slot?
Well, it turns out that it is: “whose”. The guidline of “who is for people, wha/that is for things” is, in the words of “Pirates of the Carribbean” more like a guideline.
Now let us ask, what part of speech and function is the underlined “whose”. Merriam-Webster says:
- Main Entry: 1whose
- Pronunciation: ‘h?z, ?z
- Function: adjective
- Etymology: Middle English whos, genitive of who, what
- of or relating to whom or which especially as possessor or possessors <whose gorgeous vesture heaps the ground – Robert Browning>, agent or agents <the law courts, whose decisions were important – F. L. Mott>, or object or objects of an action <the first poem whose publication he ever sanctioned – J. W. Krutch>
There you have it: “of what anything (person / thing)” is expressed by “whose”.
Thus, to close the loop:
“The new server in the data center, whose IP address I need, runs the elegant and fast Mac OS X.”
In response to a comment I found a site which encourages the use of ‘whose’ to refer to inanimate objects. The author notes that doing so seems to be a shibboleth for good writers versus bad. [ LINK ]