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The difference between “Whose” vs. “Who’s”: Definition and Use Cases

Updated on June 21, 2023Grammar

Who’s is a contraction linking the words who is or who has, and whose is the possessive form of the pronoun who. They may sound the same, but they’re not spelled the same, and remembering which spelling is which can be tricky. To get into the difference between who’s and whose, read on.

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Table of Contents

Who’s vs. whose: What’s the difference?

What is who?

Who’s or whose

Who’s got time for examples?

Who’s clear on who’s and whose?

Who’s vs. whose: What’s the difference?

The contraction who’s means who is or who has. The relative pronoun whose is used the same as other possessive pronouns such as my or their when you don’t know the owner of something, as in “whose phone is this?”

Whos going to tell me whose party were going to?

Both who’s and whose come from the pronoun who (shocking, right?).

Who’s is a contraction, meaning it’s two words stuck together with some of the letters left out, and those letters are replaced with an apostrophe. The formula: who + is or who + has = who’s.

Who’s hungry?

Whose is the possessive form of the pronoun who. Use it when you’re asking (or declaring) to whom something belongs.

Whose sandwich is this?

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But when you need the word whom to explain what whose means, more information is called for. Plus, even though who’s is a contraction and whose is possessive, say one after the other and you sound like an owl starting to fall asleep. That’s because these two words are homophones, meaning they sound the same but mean different things and/or are spelled differently. Keep your apostrophes where they belong by continuing through this explanation of who’s vs. whose.

What is who?

First up, let’s introduce this exceptionally tricky pronoun. It has several forms, and many a brave soul has cowered in the attempt to use it correctly.

Who

Who is one of the interrogative pronouns, along with what and which. Of those three, who is the one used to refer to a personal subject. In other words, you can use it to ask a question about which person did something or is someone.

Who is in charge here?

Who asked you to go to the dance?

Who is that?

Whom

This is the bane of many an English speaker’s existence. But it’s not as hard as you think: Like the personal pronouns, who changes form based on case, and whom is its objective form, meaning that if you could turn your question into a statement and replace whom with him, her, me, or them, you’re good to go.

Whom are you referencing?

Whom did you ask to the dance?

To whom are you speaking?

Yeah, we know—it sounds stuffy. But if you want to be correct correct, that’s how it works.

And now, on to the spelling culprits.

Who’s or whose

They sound the same: hoos. It rhymes with shoes.

So: Is it who’s shoes? Or whose shoes?

Who’s

To recap, who is the pronoun used to mean “what or which person or people.” Add -’s to stand in for who is or who has.

Who’s = who + is

Who’s = who + has

Who’s is a contraction. That means the apostrophe stands in for a letter that goes missing to make pronunciation easier and quicker. Imagine saying “I do not know who is going to go.” Out loud, it probably sounds more like “I don’t know who’s gonna go.” The jury’s still out on gonna, but we’d guess you’re already used to using an apostrophe to mark an omitted word or sound. Wouldn’t y’all agree?

Whose

Whose shoes? Translation: To whom do the shoes belong?

Whose is a pronoun used in questions to ask who or what owns something or has something. In other words, whose is about possession.

Don’t be tricked: On the one hand, because grammazons mark possessive nouns with -’s, it’s tempting to think that who’s (not whose) is the possessive form of who. But apostrophes are also used in contractions; that’s what the apostrophe indicates in who’s. And possessive pronouns, which also include his, hers, their, and its, don’t take apostrophes. Which is why the possessive form of the pronoun who is whose.

One more time, for the folks in the back:

Whose = belonging to whom

Who’s = contraction of who is or who has

Incidentally, “Who’s shoes?” would mean “Who is Shoes?” Some folks have strange nicknames. Like Blue. Whose clues? Blue’s clues.

Weirdly, you’d never say “Who’s shoes” to mean “Who has shoes?”—you’d probably say “Who’s got shoes?” if that was the meaning you were after.

Who’s got time for examples?

Well, we hope you do. But whose time is it? Your time. We hope you’ll spend it looking at these examples of how to use who’s and whose.

Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf?

If you have that tune stuck in your head for the rest of the day, you can blame us.

Whose Line Is It Anyway?

Who’s against spicing up a grammar lesson with some nineties comedy?

“The People Behind the Tusks: A Who’s Who of the Cast of Warcraft” —oviePilot.com

“Consequently, their roles had to be filled by CIA officers whose identities had not been revealed to the Russians.”[—Tom Clancy, Commander in Chief

“Bessie carried a lantern, whose light glanced on wet steps and gravel road sodden by a recent thaw.”

Charlotte Brontë Jane Eyre

This one’s worth an extra glance: Who in all its forms generally refers to animate beings, but in the possessive there’s no equivalent for inanimate objects like Bessie’s lantern. The alternative is “Bessie carried a lantern, the light of which glanced on wet steps.” Okay in some circumstances, but it would’ve really disrupted Charlotte’s flow here.

And finally, a who’ve for good measure:

“[They’re] kids from wealthier districts, where winning is a huge honor, who’ve been trained their whole lives for this.” —Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games

Yes, that means who have.

Who’s clear on who’s and whose?

By now, anyone who has read this far, we hope. Just in case, let’s review:

  • Both of these words are versions of the interrogative pronoun who.
  • Who’s is a contraction of who + is or who + has.
  • Whose means “belonging to whom” or, occasionally, “of which.”

Whose grammar got a boost from this read? Now you’re someone who’s ready to use these pronouns in style.

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