Whose life is it anyway?

A teacher asks about whose as a possessive for an inanimate object, as in this partial sentence:

“…the education system should offer enrichment programs whose effectiveness has been proven.”

The teacher suggests “…with proven effectiveness” would work as well, and it would. But the heart of the question is whether whose can be used with an object or a concept, not just with a person or an animal.

Most usage experts say that whose is acceptable in that construction. Bryan Garner in “Garner’s Modern American Usage” writes that this use of whose was decried by 19th century grammarians but “is often an inescapable way of avoiding clumsiness.” The other way of writing possession for an object or a concept is with of which. That can lead to awkward expression:

… enrichment programs, the effectiveness of which has been proven.

World Wide Words has a post on whose and inanimate objects. Michael Quinlan points out that even the venerable Fowler in 1926 found that no such rule against whose existed.

The American Heritage Book of English Usage also finds whose acceptable for inanimate nouns.

This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.