Who’s vs Whose – 2 Variations of the Same Pronoun

Who’s vs whose can trip up English writers, but there is a simple trick to keep these two words straight.

The words who’s vs whose are challenging for some writers because they are homophones. Homophones are words that sound the same but have different spellings and different meanings. Because who’s and whose come from the same root word, the pronoun who, the words can be even more challenging.

As you hone your English writing skills, you can learn to keep these words straight. Knowing when to use who’s vs whose will keep your writing clear and effective and show that you are a master of the English language.

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The Different Meanings and Usages of Who’s vs Whose 

Who’s vs whose

Both who’s and whose come from the interrogative pronoun who. They are hard to keep straight because they sound exactly the same when you say them out loud. However, the two spellings have two very different meanings and usages in English grammar. 

Meanings and Usage of Who’s

Who’s with the apostrophe s is the contraction that is short for “who is.” This is similar to what’s, which is the contraction for “what is.” You might also be interested in our since vs. for post.

This form of the word who is often used when asking questions, as in:

  • Who’s going to the store with me?

This version of who’s could easily be replaced with “who is.” Thus, you need the version with the apostrophe s. Here are some more example sentences:

  • The teacher needs to know who’s missing the assignment. 
  • Who’s planning to take a vacation over Christmas break?
  • We were visiting the “who’s who” of the community to ask them to sign our petition.

The Meanings and Usage of Whose

Whose is the possessive case of the word who. It is a possessive adjective in a sentence when asking or showing possession of something. You can also check out our aisle or isle and oral vs. verbal guides.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word whose means “that which belongs to whom.” This is a rather complex definition, but you can understand the word to mean the possessive form of the word who.

Historically, whose was used only to describe possession by a person or group of people. For example:

  • Samantha, whose book was under the couch, was late because she was looking for it.

However, the English language is constantly evolving, and it is now appropriate to use it as the possessive word referring to items belonging to inanimate objects and even places. For example:

  • New York, whose lights are always on, is known as the City that Never Sleeps.
  • The book, whose cover was torn, was the girl’s favorite.
  • Whose Line Is It Anyway is a popular comedy show where improv comedians are fed lines and scenarios to act out.

How to Keep Who’s vs Whose Straight

A simple trick to keep who’s vs whose straight in your writing is to consider the apostrophe as a replacement for missing letters. When you make a contraction of who is, you eliminate the letter i. Thus, you need an apostrophe to show that there is a missing letter.

On the other hand, whose does not have a missing letter. It is the possessive form of the pronoun. The spelling changes help keep the two words distinct from each other. You might also be interested in our OK vs. okay and macaron vs. macaroon explainers.

Its vs It’s – A Similar Example

The pronouns who’s and whose are similar to the pronouns its and it’s. Its is the possessive form of the pronoun and is used to show ownership of an item by another non-human item. It’s is a contraction that is sort for it is. 

When you get who’s vs whose correct, you will more easily be able to choose its and it’s, since they follow the same rule.  

A Final Word on Who’s vs Whose

If you are struggling to keep who’s and whose straight, the best way to remember is to know that the apostrophe takes the place of a missing letter. Thus, who’s is short for who is, while whose is the possessive form of who. 

Yet even with this basic understanding, you may find that you still slip up. Since the two words sound the same when spoken, mistakes are understandable. One of the best ways to make sure you don’t let an error slip through in your writing is to put your piece through a grammar checker like Grammarly.

With a grammar checker, you can be confident that you use the correct word every time. 

FAQs on Who’s vs Whose

When do I use whose vs who’s?

When you need the possessive form of the word “who,” you will use the spelling whose. When using the contraction for “who is,” you will use the spelling who’s.

Should I use who is vs whose?

The answer to this question depends on your meaning. If you mean to show possession, you will use the word whose. If you need to show the subject and verb at the start of a question, you will use “who is” which can be shortened to who’s sometimes.

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  • Nicole Harms has been writing professionally since 2006. She specializes in education content and real estate writing but enjoys a wide gamut of topics. Her goal is to connect with the reader in an engaging, but informative way. Her work has been featured on USA Today, and she ghostwrites for many high-profile companies. As a former teacher, she is passionate about both research and grammar, giving her clients the quality they demand in today's online marketing world.