What or which?



I do not know which one to choose. Grammar rules sometimes seem not to be enough. Could you help me?

1. Have you ever prescribed any tests for diagnostic purposes? What was the result?
(NB: I am not sure whether what is the right pronoun. Would you use which here?)

2. Do you know if the Life Assured has seen other doctors? If so, which?
(NB: again here my doubt regards which - should it be what doctors or who?)

3. Has the Life Assured been hospitalized in a medical institution, sanatorium, hospital or the like? When and for what illness?
(NB: what illness / which illness????)

Posted 10 January 2002


In example 1, what is the correct pronoun in this case. Use what, not which, when there is unlimited choice, when the possibilities are endless. The number of possible results is infinite.

Even though in this case there might be only two possible results - positive or negative - what is the usual word to go with "result." You might use which if you have already identified a small number of the results, and those are the ones you are referring to:

You say the two labs sent back contradictory results? Which result are you going to accept?

In example 2, you could say "which ones" or "which." You could also say "which doctors," but since you have just mentioned "doctors," "ones" is a comfortable substitute. You could also use "who," although "who" refers more to the identity of the individual, and the question is asking for the identity of the doctors.

In example 3, you can use "what illness" if the choice of illnesses is wide. Use "which illness" if the choice is small. You would know if the choice is small from the previous context. In this case, it seems as though the possibilities are infinite for any kind of illness, so "what illness" sounds perfect.

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