Battle of the Words: Whose versus Who’s

 

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In this word battle, we’ll wrestle with the words Whose and Who’s. These words can be troublesome because we tend to think that an apostrophe before the letter S always indicates possession—and that typically is the case, but not this time. The good news is that there are very clear rules that dictate which word is used in what context. Here are the basics:

Who’s uses an apostrophe, but it never indicates possession. Instead, this word is actually a contraction that means Who is. It’s as simple as that. The word Who’s will only be used when you want to indicate Who is. Use it like this:

  • Who’s coming for dinner tonight? (Who is coming for dinner?)
  • Brad is the guy who’s buying my car. (Brad is the guy who is buying my car)
  • I am not sure who’s to blame for the broken microwave. (I am not sure who is to blame)

So the bottom line is this: If you can’t substitute Who is, then you can’t use Who’s.

On the other hand, Whose is as possessive form. Use it to indicate that something belongs to someone or something:

  • Whose car is this? (Who owns this car?)
  • Sherry is the woman whose car was stolen. (The car that Sherry owns was stolen)
  • The man whose tickets were lost in the mail plans to sue Ticketmaster. (The man who owned the tickets)

You can read the full definition of Whose on dictionary.com. Of course, these words sound identical in speech, so you can only practice this usage in writing. Just keep in mind that they aren’t interchangeable, and readers are sure to notice if the words are misused.

GrammaRx Need a higher dose of this grammar tip? Check out these interactive exercises brought to you by Grammar Bytes!

Exercise 1

Exercise 2

 

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