Usage and Grammar

Q. The word “whose” used as a possessive with an inanimate object never sounds correct to me. Example: She had changed into a long green dress whose very modesty highlighted a long lean body. The modesty refers to the green dress. Is it correct to say it this way? I always thought “whose” referred to a person.

A. Yes, it’s correct, and there really isn’t an elegant alternative. The old Fowler’s Modern English Usage might give you a chuckle. After some ridiculous examples that use “of which” in order to avoid “whose,” the article closes with, “Let us, in the name of common sense, prohibit the prohibition of whose inanimate; good writing is surely difficult enough without the forbidding of things that have historical grammar, and present intelligibility, and obvious convenience, on their side.”