What Are Interrogative Adjectives? Definition and Examples

By Carly Forsaith, updated on August 25, 2023

If you're here to learn more about interrogative adjectives, you're in the right place. This article will teach you everything you need to know about using them correctly in your writing.

In short:

  • Interrogative adjectives are words that modify a noun or pronoun and allow you to ask a question.

This article is part of our free online Grammar Book.

What Are Interrogative Adjectives?

Interrogative adjectives are a specific category of adjectives used to ask a question. As you may know, adjectives modify nouns and pronouns, and interrogative adjectives are no different. A sentence with an interrogative adjective is (almost) always a question—also known as an interrogative sentence.

There are three interrogative adjectives, and they are:

  • which
  • what
  • whose

Here are some example sentences that use each of these:

Which color dress do you like best?

What is your name?

Whose pearls are these?

Earlier, when I said a sentence with an interrogative adjective is almost always a question, I said it because 'whose' can also be used as a possessive adjective, meaning you might see it in a different type of sentence.

One last thing before we dive into the juicy bits: it's important to note that many grammarians actually consider these three words to be determiners, not adjectives. So, if you see them referred to as interrogative determiners or even just interrogatives, that's why. It doesn't change anything about how you use them; it's just a question of calling them something different.

How to Use Interrogative Adjectives

To use these adjectives correctly in your own writing (and speaking), there are a few ground rules you should be aware of. Let's dive in.

Open and Closed Questions

How will you know when to use which adjective at the start of your question? For starters, questions can be classed into two kinds: open and closed questions.

Open questions are the type of questions where the person responding can answer whatever they want. There's no restriction or guidance around what the person should answer. 'What' is the word to use if you want to ask open questions. Use 'what' when you wish to inquire about the identity, nature, or value of a person, object, or matter.

Here is an example:

What is your favorite pastime?

Closed questions limit the range of possible answers. The answer will either consist of 'yes' or 'no,' or otherwise limited answers.

'Whose' is only for closed questions since the only possible answer identifies a person. Use 'whose' if you want to ask a question about the person who owns the thing being discussed.

For example:

Whose pear is this?

'Which' is also used to ask closed questions because the question usually presents a few options. Use 'which' when you want to identify one person or thing from a group, a group of people or things.

Which of these two T-shirts do you think I should wear?

Alternatively, it might not explicitly present options, but it will still only be possible to answer with something quite specific.

For example:

Which city did you grow up in?

Yes, there are many cities worldwide, but the only possible answer is the city's name, so it's a closed question.

Where to Place Them

When using interrogative adjectives, you must put them in the correct part of your sentence. With direct questions, they'll always be the first word of the sentence.

For example:

What would you like to eat?

Whose dog is barking?

Which of you kids left this mess in the kitchen?

Open questions are what you typically think of when you hear the word 'question.' They start with an interrogative word and end with a question mark.

And then, there are indirect questions. Just as their name indicates, they allow you to ask questions indirectly. Indirect questions are not technically interrogative sentences; they are declarative ones. And they don't use a question mark. But the result is the same: you get an answer to your question.

Here are some examples:

The boss asked which report wll be ready first.

We need to know what your dietary requirements are.

I was wondering if you knew whose glasses these are.

As you can see, in these examples, the interrogative adjectives don't feature at the beginning of the sentence but rather in the middle. They're still right before the noun they modify, though, so that should help you determine where best to place your adjectives when writing your own indirect questions.

No Comparative or Superlative Form

Comparative and superlative adjectives are formed from regular adjectives and are used for comparison. For instance, the adjective 'old' can be changed to  'older' or 'oldest' to compare the ages between two people, animals, things, locations... or whatever you like!

For example:

The Frankford Avenue Bridge is the oldest bridge in the United States.

However, an interrogative adjective cannot be used for comparison. Something can't be more 'what' than another or less 'which' than another. Can you imagine the nonsense sentences that would happen as a result? Give it a try, and you'll see!

  • That's why interrogative adjectives are one of the few types of adjectives that can't be converted to comparatives or superlative forms.

Who's vs Whose

A common error is to spell 'whose' with an apostrophe like this:


This is incorrect, and there's one simple rule that can help you remember why and ensure you spell it correctly in your own writing.

Apostrophes are used to form contractions. Contractions are shortened forms of words. A contraction is made up of two words joined together by an apostrophe. You also leave out a few letters when you make a contraction, and usually, you replace them with an apostrophe.

Here are some examples of common contractions:

  • I'm
  • we'll
  • there's
  • y'all
  • won't

That's what happened to the word 'who's.' It's a contracted form of the two words 'who is.'

Here's an example of what this might look like in a sentence:

I heard a knock on the door; can you go and check who's there?

The only time you can use an apostrophe for a different reason is to turn a noun into a possessive noun. You add an apostrophe and the letter 's' after the noun to show possession. But since 'who' isn't a noun, you'll never see the word 'who's' in that context.

So, if you're wondering whether to write 'whose' or 'who's,' ask yourself whether you are asking a question about possession (whose) or just shortening the phrase 'who is.'

Adjectives vs Pronouns

As a reminder, pronouns help you avoid repetition throughout your sentences by replacing nouns. 'What,' 'which,' and 'whose' can all be pronouns, but not only that, they can also be the first word in a question, so things can get a little confusing.

Here are some examples:

What do you want?

Which of you would like to come on a hike and which of you would like to stay here?

Whose is this glass of wine?  

Interrogative adjectives are followed by the noun they modify, whereas pronouns, since they replace nouns, can't have a noun after them. Instead, they're followed by a verb (or sometimes by a prepositional phrase and then a verb). 

Concluding Thoughts on Interrogative Adjectives

That concludes this article on interrogative adjectives. I hope you found it helpful and that you now feel confident about using them in your own writing.

Let's summarize what we've learned:

  • The interrogative adjectives are 'what,' 'which,' and 'whose.'
  • They are used to ask questions. 
  • In direct questions, they're the first word of the sentence, whereas, in indirect questions, you might find them closer to the middle.
  • They don't have a comparative or superlative form.
  • Don't confuse 'whose' with 'who's,' a contracted form of 'who is.'
  • Don't confuse interrogative adjectives with interrogative pronouns.

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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