Limiting Adjective - Relative

Relative adjectives are used to modify nouns and introduce subordinate clauses.

Check out this fearsome foursome:

  1. What
  2. Whatever
  3. Which
  4. Whichever

When these words are used to modify nouns and introduce subordinate clauses, they're relative adjectives.

Examples

"Mark couldn't remember which toothbrush he used to clean the grout."

Ten out of ten dentists agree that Mark needs to go buy all new toothbrushes. In this example, which is a relative adjective because it introduces the subordinate clause which toothbrush he used to clean the grout. Since he's choosing between a set number of toothbrushes, which is the way to go.

"Mr. Jorgensplatt will choose what musical the drama club stages this spring."

In this example, what is a relative adjective that begins the subordinate clause what musical the drama club stages this spring. Given that Mr. J has forced the drama club to perform Sweeney Todd for seven straight years, it's a safe bet that he'll have them do it again this year—but since there's no set number of options, we go with "what" instead of "which."

"I'm sure you'll look festive in whichever ugly Christmas sweater you decide to wear."

Here, whichever is a relative adjective that kicks off the dependent clause whichever ugly Christmas sweater you decide to wear. It's not the holiday season until you've been invited to 438 Ugly Christmas Sweater parties, and whichever basically means "any and all."

 

Common mistakes

Whatever and whichever are two revved-up relative adjectives that you can use to jumpstart a dependent clause. But how do you know which one to use? Gentlemen and ladies, start your adjective engines:

Use whichever when the subject of the dependent clause is one of two or more known options. If you don't know all of the options available, use whatever.

Examples:

"Jay will suck up to whatever of his twin brothers is most likely to loan him their car on Saturday night."

or

"Sandra's dad will pay for whatever repairs are needed to her Volkswagen."

We've really shifted these examples into top gear, haven't we? Can you tell which one uses whatever correctly?

It's the second one because the entire range of repair options after Sandra ruined her ride is unknown. Therefore, whatever is the way to go. In the first sentence, you should use whichever because Jay has a clear set of options to choose from: one of two twins.