Who’s or Whose? When to Use Which

Summary

Who’s is the contracted form of “who is” or “who has.” Whose is the possessive form of who: it signifies ownership, possession, or association.

Examples
  • Who’s that man looking up at the sky?
  • Whose umbrella is that blowing away in the wind?

If you can replace the word with “who is” or “who has” and still have the sentence make sense, use who’s; otherwise, use whose.

Who’s vs. whose

Who’s is a contraction formed by combining two words, while whose is a possessive, a word that expresses a relationship of ownership by someone.

Examples
  • Who’s your favorite writer?
    who’s = who is (contraction)
  • Whose book is this?
    whose book = someone’s book (possessive)

Since who’s and whose are pronounced the same way, they are often confused in writing. In this article, we discuss how to correctly use who’s and whose, and a simple trick to get it right every time.

When to use who’s (with the apostrophe)

Who’s is a contraction of “who is” or “who has.” (The apostrophe in who’s denotes contraction.) We use the interrogative pronoun who to identify people.

Examples
  • Who’s there?
    who’s = who is
  • I wonder who’s calling me at this time of the night.
    who is calling
  • Look who’s talking.
    who is talking
  • Who’s going to help us now?
    who is going
  • Who’s been opening all the presents?
    who has been opening

Who is also used as a relative pronoun to provide further information about someone. Again, when it combines with the verbs is and has, it contracts to become who’s.

Examples
  • I think that man who’s waving to us is your father.
    that man who is waving
  • Maya is someone who’s thought of everything.
    someone who has thought
  • I caught the gnome who’s been eating all our pencils.
    the gnome who has been eating
Caution

Avoid using contractions in formal writing. In a thesis or a cover letter, for example, use “who is” or “who has” instead of “who’s.”

When to use whose

Whose is the possessive form of who and is used to ask or speak about ownership or association. Use this word to indicate which person someone or something is associated with or belongs to.

Examples
  • Whose books are these?
    possessive determiner: someone’s books
  • I wonder whose phone this is.
  • Whose present should we open first?
  • Whose turn is it to do the dishes?

Whose is also a relative pronoun used to speak of possession by or association with someone or something.

Examples
  • The man whose car you’ve stolen is your father.
    the father’s car
  • Tumkin is someone whose opinion I value.
  • This is the poor little girl whose pencils were eaten by a gnome.
  • The person whose turn it is to do the dishes should stand up.
Note

It is sometimes thought that whose should be used to speak only of people and not of things. This is not correct. It is perfectly fine to use whose in relative clauses to refer to inanimate objects.

Example
  • This is the city whose inhabitants were abducted by aliens.

The who’s-or-whose test

Here’s a simple trick to use who’s and whose correctly: if “who is” or “who has” sounds fine in a sentence, use who’s; otherwise, use whose.

For instance, in the following sentences, “who is” or “who has” would fit; therefore, use who’s instead of whose.

Examples
  • Who’s/Whose your supervisor?
  • Anita is a friend who’s/whose kind and trustworthy.
  • Someone who’s/whose found all the answers probably hasn’t asked the right questions.
  • Who’s/Whose been sitting in my chair?

In contrast, neither “who is” nor “who has” would work in the following sentences. Use the possessive whose instead of the contraction who’s.

Examples
  • Who’s/Whose chair is this?
  • Is Rita the person who’s/whose motorcycle you crashed?
  • This is a question who’s/whose answer we’ll never know.

Here are some more examples of who’s and whose used correctly.

Examples
  • Who’s telling whose jokes now?
  • I forget: who’s the student whose application is missing?
  • The man who’s sitting at that table is the one whose picture we saw in the paper yesterday.

Who’s who or whose who?

The phrase who’s who is a contraction of who is who. It refers to a directory of information about notable people, or to the notable people themselves, the elite. As such, it tells you who is who, not who belongs to whom, which is why the correct phrase is who’s who, not whose who.

Examples
  • Her client list reads like a who’s who of Hollywood.
  • The who’s who of the music industry will be there.
  • Here is a who’s who, a list of whom you should invite to the opening.

Examples from literature

Here are some examples of who’s and whose used correctly in the writings of famous authors. Note how who’s is used as a contraction and whose as a possessive.

Examples
  • They don’t teach you what to say to someone who’s dying.
    Neil Gaiman, The Kindly Ones (1993)
  • Writing turns you into somebody who’s always wrong.
    Philip Roth, American Pastoral (1997)
  • Death, the only immortal who treats us all alike, whose pity and whose peace and whose refuge are for all—the soiled and the pure, the rich and the poor, the loved and the unloved.
    Mark Twain, Moments with Mark Twain (1920)
  • She was the tree that grew in the centre of their lives and in whose shade they lived.
    Anita Desai, Clear Light of Day (1980)
  • This was an attractive room, spacious and well designed, but it had the comfortably shabby air of a place whose inhabitants had long ago stopped seeing it.
    Anne Tyler, A Spool of Blue Thread (2015)

Other contractions vs. possessives

Apostrophe usage with it’s and its can also be confusing. It’s is a contraction, while its (without the apostrophe) is a possessive. If “it is” or “it has” works in the sentence, use it’s; otherwise, use its.

Examples
  • It’s going to rain.
    it’s = it is
  • It’s been raining all day.
    it’s = it has
  • Has your wooden dining table lost its shine?
    its shine = the table’s shine

Also, like whose, possessive pronouns like yours and theirs don’t have apostrophes.

Examples
  • Incorrect: Is this umbrella your’s?
    Correct: Is this umbrella yours?
  • Incorrect: This motorcycle is her’s.
    Correct: This motorcycle is hers.
  • Incorrect: This house is their’s, not our’s.
    Correct: This house is theirs, not ours.

Quick Quiz

Which of these contains a contraction?
Choose from these answers
All done!
Which of these contains a possessive?
Choose from these answers
All done!
Which is correct?
Choose from these answers
All done!
Which is correct?
Choose from these answers
All done!
Which is correct?
Choose from these answers
All done!

Did You Know?

Terms of endearment like sweetheart and darling are not generally capitalized.
Know more:Are Mom, Dad, Uncle, Aunt, and Other Family Titles Capitalized?