[Middle English whos, from Old English hwæs; see kwo- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]
Usage Note: The use of whose to refer to inanimate antecedents (as in We could see a building whose roof was painted gold) has been criticized by usage commentators since the 1700s. The tradition holds that whose should function only as the possessive of who, and be limited in reference to persons. Nonetheless, whose has been used to refer to inanimate things since the 1300s, and it appears in the works of many illustrious writers, including Shakespeare, Milton, and Wordsworth. This use of whose undoubtedly serves a useful purpose, since which and that do not have possessive forms, and the substitute phrase of which is often cumbersome. Thus, the sentence He pointed to a grove of trees whose trunks were coated with ice is made somewhat stilted by the avoidance of whose: He pointed to a grove of trees, the trunks of which were coated with ice. As sentences become more complicated, the use of of which can be especially clumsy. In our 2017 survey, 64 percent of the Usage Panel approved of an example in which whose refers to a river: The EPA has decided to dredge the river, whose bottom has been polluted for years. The association of whose with people may have influenced the Panel's response to an example that is syntactically similar to the previous one, in which the antecedent is a book, but the subject of the whose clause is a person. Some 85 percent of the Panel accepted the sentence The book, whose narrator speaks in the first person, is a mock autobiography. See Usage Notes at else, which, who.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2019 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.