A common mistake I’ve seen in manuscripts, letters, blogs, emails and tweets is the incorrect use of the words whose and who’s. There appears to be a fair bit of confusion on which of these terms to use. Whenever an apostrophe is potentially involved, people seem to get anxious, just guess which word to use, and cross their fingers hoping they’ve chosen the correct one. But, once you’ve learned the difference between who’s and whose, these words are actually quite straightforward to use.
With who’s, the apostrophe is used to denote a contraction – the apostrophe replaces some letters:
Who’s = Who is
Who’s = Who has
Anytime you want to ask “who is” or “who has”, you can shorten the expression to “who’s”:
Guess who’s coming to dinner?
Who’s got a better idea?
Tony told me who’s coming to the party.
My aunt is someone who’s living in Alberta.
Who’s been sitting in my chair? (From Goldilocks and the Three Bears – maybe a handy way to remember when the apostrophe is appropriate.)
If you’re not sure whether you should use this spelling, ask yourself if you can replace who’s with who is or who has.
Guess who is coming to dinner?
Who has got a better idea?
Tony told me who is coming to the party.
My aunt is someone who is living in Alberta.
Who has been sitting in my chair?
The word whose is a possessive pronoun – the possessive of who – and is defined as belonging to or associated with which person. Thus whose is usually followed by a noun, an item of some sort. You should use whose when you’re asking or telling whom something belongs to.
Whose sweater is this?
Whose umbrella was left on the train?
Whose turn is it to wash the dishes?
Guess whose birthday it is tomorrow.
And whose fault is that?
Whose idea is it anyway?
Sarah, whose dog is cute, just arrived.
When I figure out whose paper this is, I’ll sign it.
I buy my eggs from a farmer whose chickens roam free.
They’ll die down there in the grass, said the ranger, whose name I forget.
Among the servants there was a little page whose name was Carl.
Hopefully these examples and explanations have cleared up any confusion. Remember – if you can replace the word with who is or who has, then you should use the one with the apostrophe – who’s. Otherwise use whose.
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