Limiting Adjective - Interrogative

Interrogative adjectives modify nouns and pronouns in questions.

There are only three of them, so they shouldn't be too hard to remember:

  • What
  • Which
  • Whose

Remember that "interrogative" has its root in "interrogate," an unpleasant series of questions that may include, but are not limited to "Do you know the Muffin Man?"

Examples

"Whose locker is covered in bologna slices?"

In this (extremely unlikely, we hope) sentence, whose is an interrogative adjective that modifies the noun locker.

"Which book should our book club read next: The Unbearable Lightness of Being or The Berenstain Bears and the Messy Room?"

If they're seeking enlightenment, they should read The Berenstain Bears and the Messy Room. Papa Bear's organizational skills are so good he deserves his own show on HGTV. And our grammar skills are so good that we can tell you with complete confidence that, in this example, the interrogative adjective which modifies the noun book.

"What black light poster should we get for our dorm room?"

In this groovy sentence, what is an interrogative adjective that modifies the noun poster. Black and light are both descriptive adjectives that further describe the type of poster being sought.

 

Common mistakes

What and which are both interrogative adjectives that you can use to ask questions, but how do you know which one to use? Let's get all meta and examine that question itself.

In the previously stated question, we use which to modify one because we know the range of choices available to use: our options are which or what. If you don't know what options are available, then it's correct to use what.

Easy as that.

Examples:

"What Beatles album is your favorite?"

or

"What song do you think the Rolling Stones will do for their encore tonight?"

The Beatles and The Stones: a rivalry as old as rock 'n' roll itself. Okay, so it's not literally that old, but it is almost as old as Keith Richards, and that guy is ancient. Or possibly dead by the time you're reading this.

But which sentence uses the interrogative adjective what correctly? It's the second oneā€”because you don't know all of the options that are available. It's likely that the Stones will play something from their own catalog, but you never know. Maybe they'll throw down with some Taylor Swift. In the first sentence, you should use which instead of what because there's a definite number of sublime Beatles albums from which to choose.