General Writing and Grammar Help/use of "who"

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Question
Dear Ted,

Can you please help me with the use of the word “who” in the following sentence:

“Can you tell me who wrote the book?”

I am trying to determine if “who” is an interrogative pronoun, or if “who” is a relative pronoun in this sentence.

Thank you very much for your help.

Sincerely,

Rich

Answer
Dear Rich:

Can you please help me with the use of the word “who” in the following sentence:

“Can you tell me who wrote the book?”

I am trying to determine if “who” is an interrogative pronoun, or if “who” is a relative pronoun in this sentence.

*** A relative pronoun MUST HAVE an antecedent.  There must be a word in the independent clause to which the pronoun in the dependent clause RELATES.  There is NO antecedent for the pronoun "who."  Therefore, it is an interrogative pronoun used to ask a question.

You can change the sentence to make "who" a relative pronoun by adding an antecedent in the main clause:  Can you tell me the name of the author who wrote the book?  In this revision, "who" RELATES to the antecedent "author."

I found this answer on a grammar forum.  You may find it interesting.

An interrogative pronoun is a pronoun used in order to ask a question.

Often it has no antecedent because the antecedent is unknown. That is why the question is being asked!

In modern English there are five interrogative pronouns:


what, which, who, whom, and whose.

Note that all five words may also be used as relative pronouns. A relative pronoun may be found in a question; an interrogative pronoun is found only in a question.

Relative pronouns refer to an antecedent, and they begin adjective clauses.

1)This the toy WHICH I bought from my friend, Nick.

WHICH refers back to its antecedent, toy.

2)This is my friend, WHOM I met at School.

WHOM refers back to its antecedent friend.

3)This is my friend, WHO walks with me to School.

WHO refers back to its antecedent, friend.

4)This is the toy THAT I like the most.

THAT refers back to its antecedent, toy.

Ted

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Ted Nesbitt

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I am the bibliographic instruction and reference librarian at a public college. Some members of the English department recommend me to their students. I offer assistance in grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and paragraph development. My master`s thesis concerns William Faulkner`s tragic novels. I formerly taught advanced placement English at two schools in the Philadelphia area.

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B. A. and M. A in English; MSIS in Library & Information Sciences; graduate study in philosophy

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