Who’s vs. Whose – How To Distinguish Them

04.08.23 Commonly confused words Time to read: 5min

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In the realm of English grammar, certain pairs of words are frequently mistaken for each other. These are known as commonly confused words. A pair that often perplexes authors of academic writing is “who’s” vs. “whose.” Although they sound similar, their grammatical uses and meanings differ distinctively. “Who’s” is a contraction and stands for “who is” or “who has,” whereas “whose” is a possessive pronoun that refers to ownership. Learn to distinguish “who’s” from “whose” in this article.

Definition of “who’s vs. whose”

Although the spelling of “who’s” and “whose” is very similar, the meanings and uses of each are entyrely different. “Who’s” depicts a contraction and refers to “who is” and “who has.” It is a composition of a pronoun and a verb. On the contrary, “whose” is the possessive form of the pronoun “who”, which refers to ownership or replaces a noun.

Who’s

… is a contraction composed of a relative pronoun and the verb “to be”.

Whose

… is a possessive pronoun and can be used before a noun or replace a noun.

While “who’s” and “whose” might be easily confused by sound, they cannot be used interchangeably, as they must be used in different contexts. A common mistake is to use the contraction “who’s” to express ownership or possession, as it is common to add an “-s” to possessive forms. However, it can be noted that possessive forms with an “-s” at the end never have an apostrophe. Thus, the correct word in this case would be “whose.”

Using the word “who’s”

The word “who’s” is an abbreviated form or contraction of “who is” or “who has,” where the apostrophe before the “s” represents the shortening. It can indicate a question or be used as a relative pronoun to modify nouns.

“Who’s” as an indicator of a question

When the word “who’s” is used to indicate a question, it stands in the first position of a clause or a sentence.

Examples

  • Who’s coming to the party?
  • Who’s got a map of the area?
  • Who’s eaten all the cookies?

“Who’s” as a modifier of a noun

When “who’s” is placed at the beginning of a clause, it may be used to modify the subject of the main clause. This means that additional information is introduced to provide more relevant details about the subject. In these cases, “who’s” acts as a relative pronoun and refers to the person in the main clause.

Examples

  • Peter is a CEO who’s travelling all the time.
  • Olivia is the one who’s responsible for the schedule.
  • This was the person who’s been picking fights constantly.

Tip for using “who’s” correctly

“Who’s” is a contraction and consists of a combination of the words “who is” or “who has”. As it is a specified contraction, there are no direct synonyms that can be used instead of “who’s.” Nevertheless, there are phrases and constellations of words that depict alternatives for “who is” or “who has.” Although the sentence structure may vary, replacing “who’s” with synonyms is a helpful way to determine whether to use “who’s” or “whose.”

Synonyms Examples
The one who is Who's responsible must be held accountable.
The one who is responsible must be held accountable.
The individual who is Who's in charge has made a decision.
The individual who is in charge has made a decision.
The person who has Who's the key can open the door.
The person who has the key can open the door.

Using the word “whose”

“Whose” represents the pronoun “who” in its possessive form. It may indicate statements and questions to ask for possession, or it may be used to emphasize and elabourate on the person that you are referring to.

“Whose” in an interrogative context

When the word “whose” is used in an interrogative context, it begins the sentence and has the purpose of asking about association or ownership. It aligns with other possessive adjectives like “my”, “your”, “his”, “her”, “its”, “our”, and “their”, in question form.

Examples

  • Whose bag is this?
  • Whose keys are on the table?
  • Whose idea was it to go hiking in the desert?

“Whose” as a relative pronoun

Relative clauses are dependent clauses and typically add extra information about the subject in the main clause. When “whose” is used as a relative pronoun in a dependent clause, it indicates ownership or possession regarding the subject in the main clause.

Examples

  • The woman, whose car was parked at the door, rushed inside.
  • He visited the area whose peaches are known for their quality.
  • She is the scientist whose research made a breakthrough in the field.

Tip for using “whose” correctly

As “whose” represents the possessive form of both “who” and “which,” there are no direct synonyms for it. However, the following examples may be helpful to determine whether to use “who’s” or “whose.”

Synonyms Examples
Who does this belong to Whose bag is this?
Who does this bag belong to?
Of whom The woman, whose car was parked at the door.
The woman, of whom the car was parked at the door.
Of which The country, whose population was growing, …
The country, of which the population was growing, …

Test yourself!

Practice sheet

To evaluate your skill in distinguishing between “who’s” and “whose”, fill in the blank spaces in the ten sentences. You can then cheque the second tab for the correct answers to verify your understanding.

  1. ______ planning to make dinner tonight?
  2. ______ book is this?
  3. The woman, ______ bag was stolen, is speaking to the police.
  4.  ______ keys are on the counter?
  5. _____ idea was it to plan a holiday in Asia?
  6. ______ been eating my lunch?
  7. ______ joining my team for the project?
  8. ______ got the tickets for the theatre?
  9. The man ______ daughter won the prize lives next to me.
  10. _____ going to the cinema tonight?
    1. Who’s planning to make dinner tonight?
    2. Whose book is this?
    3. The woman, whose bag was stolen, is speaking to the police.
    4. Whose keys are on the counter?
    5. Whose idea was it to plan a holiday in Asia?
    6. Who’s been eating my lunch?
    7. Who’s joining my team for the project?
    8. Who’s got the tickets for the theatre?
    9. The man whose daughter won the prize lives next to me.
    10. Who’s going to the cinema tonight?

FAQs

“Who’s” is a contraction of “who is” and “who has” and is commonly used in questions or to describe a person.

  • Example: “Who’s the person with the highest IQ?”

“Whose is the possessive pronoun of the word “who” and commonly indicates association or ownership.

  • Example: “Whose glasses are these?”

When deciding whether to use “who’s” or “whose,” remember that “who’s” is an abbreviated form of “who is” and “who has” that indicates a question or modifies the subject of the main clause. Whereas “whose” represents the possessive form of “who” or “which.”

In an interrogative context, you can use “whose” only to refer to a person. However, when using it in a relative clause, it can also refer to an object or thing.

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