Whose or Who’s? Possessives and Contractions

Whose or Who's? Which word to use - owl eyesThe question is often asked: should it be whose or who’s? Whose and who’s are often confused, even by native English speakers. So what is the difference between ‘who’s and ‘whose’ and how do you know when to use each word? The difference is simple: ‘whose’ is the word we use to ask who owns something, while who’s is simply a shortening of ‘who is’. Contracted forms of words are rarely used in formal writing but they are often used in speech. The words ‘whose’ and ‘who’s’ are homophones, which means they sound the same. This is why the confusion arises.

 

How to use ‘Who’

Before asking whose or who’s, the first word to get to grips with is ‘who’. The word ‘who’ is a subject pronoun (used in the same way as I, she, he and they) used in the interrogative form.

‘Who’ is the word we use to ask something about a person. For example: ‘Who is that?’ ‘Who works here?’ ‘Who owns this car?’

A related word is ‘whom’. Whom is an object pronoun (used in the same way as me, her, him and them) used in the interrogative form. Find out how to use ‘whom’ here.

‘Whose’ is the possessive form of ‘who’. In contrast, ‘who’s’ is a shortening of ‘who is’ (and sometimes ‘who has’), using an apostrophe in place of the ‘i’ (who is = who’s / who has = who’s). This makes it into one word and is therefore faster to say.

It is made more confusing for some native speakers not only because the words are homophones, but also because an apostrophe usually indicates the possessive form of a word.

 

How to Use Whose and Who’s

‘Whose’ is a pronoun to ask about who owns something. The question ‘Who owns this car?’ could be re-phrased ‘Whose car is this?’. It could also be re-phrased in other ways, such as ‘To whom does this car belong?’ or ‘Who does this car belong to?’ or ‘Whose is this car?’

Sometimes there is some confusion about the difference between ‘whose’ and ‘who’s’. Some students are unsure how to use who and whose correctly.

‘Whose’ is used when talking about an object belonging to someone, normally a person or animal.’Who’s is a shortened form of ‘who is’

When you are wondering whether to use ‘who’s’ or ‘whose’, the rule is simple. The world ‘whose’ is the possessive form of ‘who’, while the word ‘who’s’ is a contraction of ‘who is’ (or sometimes ‘who has’).

Who's or whose? Whose or Who's? Mug

Examples of how to use ‘whose’:

Whose coat is this?’

‘I know a woman whose house is 500 years old’

‘There was a man from London whose name was Peter’

‘I picked up the cat, whose fur was wet from the rain

‘Who’s’ as a contraction

Examples using ‘who’s’

In contrast, ‘who’s’ is a contraction of ‘who is’ (or sometimes ‘who has’) and is not possessive in construct. For example:

Who is coming to the party?’ = ‘Who’s coming to the party?’

‘The woman who is tall plays basketball’ = ‘The woman who’s tall plays basketball’

‘The man who has moved house’ = ‘the man who’s moved house

‘Whose’ and ‘who’s’ are unrelated and serve different purposes. The confusion arises because they sound the same when spoken aloud: who’s and whose are homophones.

 

Who’s as a contraction is used often in speech but is not used in formal writing, such as business writing, reporting or academic writing.

Contractions are rarely used at all in formal writing. For example ‘is not’, ‘does not’ and ‘was not’ are almost never shortened to ‘isn’t’, ‘doesn’t’ and ‘wasn’t’ in formal usage. The words are always written out in full.

Who’s as an informal contraction can also work for the other shortened phrases: ‘who has’ and ‘who have’. For example:

Who has – who’s

  • Who has done their best work this week?
  • Who’s done their best work this week?

Who have = who’ve

  • These are the people who have won the prize
  • These are the people who’ve won the prize

Whose or Who’s? Gap Fill Exercise

When thinking about whether a sentence should use whose or who’s, it is useful to practise using example sentences. Students can choose the correct word or contraction to use in the following sentences (look out for the tricky one!)

Should these sentences be completed with whose or who’s?

  1.  ‘…. coat is this on the floor?’
  2.  ‘The person .… going to collect the parcel can also post this letter
  3.  ‘Do you know …. going to the meeting tomorrow?’
  4.  ‘We didn’t mind …. car we travelled in’
  5.  ‘This is the generous person …. going to buy lunch’
  6.  ‘I don’t know …. books these are’
  7.  ‘She looked everywhere for the person …. keys were in her office’
  8.  ‘…. coming to the party?’
  9.  ‘…. party is it, anyway?’
  10.  ‘Do you know …. responsible for this?’
  11.  ‘The runner …. fastest will win the race’
  12.  ‘These are the students …. been studying hard all week’

Who's or Whose? Whose or Who's?

Whose or Who’s? Quiz Answers

  1. Whose
  2. Who’s
  3. Who’s
  4. Whose
  5. Who’s
  6. Whose
  7. Whose
  8. Who’s
  9. Whose
  10. Who’s
  11. Who’s
  12. Who’ve
 

Share your thoughts on who, who’s and whose

Are you confident in deciding whether to use whose or who’s?

Do you have any tips for remembering when to use who’s or whose?

Can you think of any sentences where the distinction  between ‘who’, ‘whose’ and ‘who’s’ is especially problematic?

Do you find English contractions with apostrophe ‘s’ (such as ‘who’s’) difficult to use?

 

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