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When to Use “Whose” vs. “Who’s”

Who’s is a contraction linking the words who is or who has, and whose is the possessive form of who. They may sound the same, but spelling them correctly can be tricky. To get into the difference between who’s and whose, read on.

Who’s vs. whose

  • Both who’s and whose come from the pronoun who (shocking, right?).
  • Who’s is a contraction, meaning it’s two words stuck together. The formula: who + is, or who + has.
  • For example: who’s hungry?
  • Whose is a possessive pronoun. Use it when you’re asking (or telling) to whom something belongs.
  • For example: whose sandwich is this?

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But, when you need whom to explain what whose means, more information is needed. Plus, even though who’s is a contraction and whose is possessive, put them together 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. 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 many forms, and many a brave soul has cowered in the attempt to use it correctly.

Who

Who is a subject pronoun, like he, she, I, or they, but it’s the interrogative used for animate subjects. In other words, 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: whom is an object pronoun, meaning if you could replace it with “him,” “her,” “me,” or “them,” you’re good to go.

“Whom are you referencing?”

“Whom did you ask to go 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 the apostrophe and the s for these reasons:

Who’s = who + is

or

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’ll probably sound more like “I don’t know who’s gonna go.” The jury’s still out on gonna, but we’d guess you’ve already heard of 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 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 apostrophe + 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 that’s why whose is the possessive form of the pronoun .

Think of it this way:

Its = belonging to it

It’s = contraction of it is or it has

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, the above sentence wouldn’t mean “Who has shoes?”—you’d probably say “Who’s got shoes?” if that’s the meaning you’re 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 the rest of the day, you can blame us.

Whose Line Is It Anyway?

Who’s against spicing up a grammar lesson with some ’90s comedy?

The People Behind the Tusks: A Who’s Who of the Cast of Warcraft

(moviepilot.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, 124)

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

(Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre, 50)

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 very awkward alternative is “Bessie carried a lantern, the light of which glanced on wet steps.” Not good.

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, 36)

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,” and 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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