Dictionary.com

Whose vs. Who’s

whosewhos

Whose and who’s are commonly confused terms because they sound alike. Luckily, the distinction between them is relatively straightforward. Who’s is a contraction of who is or who has, and whose is a possessive pronoun.

Let’s take a look at a classic comedy sketch for some grammar guidance. In Abbott and Costello’s famous “Who’s on First” bit, Abbott explains to Costello that the names of baseball players on the team are Who, What, and I Don’t Know. This, naturally, causes confusion, which leads to Costello asking “Who’s on first?” repeatedly. Poor Costello’s frustration rises each time Abbott confirms that, yes, “Who [the baseball player] is on first.”

Why is this sketch called “Who’s on First” and not “Whose on First?” The answer is simple: As we mentioned above, who’s is a contraction of who is or who has. When Abbott says “Who’s on first,” it is equivalent to “Who is on first.” In fact, at some points during the sketch, he uses these two statements interchangeably. Rarely, when we’re talking about who, is it a proper noun (unless it’s Doctor Who); usually who is a pronoun. This, not to spoil the joke, is where the comedy comes from.

Returning to the grammar question of the hour, whose is a possessive pronoun. How do you use a possessive pronoun? Imagine it’s raining and you grab an umbrella, only to realize later that it isn’t yours. You might ask your friend “Whose umbrella is this?” In other words, you’re asking who owns the umbrella. Whose can refer to things in addition to people. For example, you can say “I’m thinking of a word whose meaning escapes me.” Some people prefer to use of which in these cases, though this often has the effect of making the sentence more clunky. You could rephrase the above with “I’m thinking of a word of which the meaning escapes me.” Both are technically correct. In these situations, it’s best to go with the one that sounds most natural.

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59 Comments

  1. dead -  October 11, 2016 - 11:35 am

    hi

    Reply
    • dead as well -  October 27, 2016 - 6:45 pm

      hi

      Reply
  2. bullxead -  December 5, 2015 - 11:31 pm

    comments are more explanatory than article

    Reply
  3. Fred H. -  October 23, 2015 - 6:07 pm

    My wife and I just had a mild argument about the use of the word who’s for possessive. I was wrong and should have used whose. That said, she stated that I was wrong regardless because I should have used whos’. She said that’s the way she was taught in the late 1950s in elementary school, at which I said that her teacher must have flunked freshman English in college! I am 7 years her senior and I do not remember ever seeing whos’ used for anything, ever!
    Pardon the pun, but who’s right here, she, or me?

    Reply
    • Wordaholic -  December 24, 2015 - 9:28 am

      You are correct, Fred H. The apostophe after the ‘s’ indicates possession for a plural noun–”The baseball teams’ players went on strike”–and sometimes for names ending in ‘s’-That is Thomas’ book.

      Reply
  4. Harvey Wachtel -  May 11, 2015 - 10:36 am

    This is the same problem as “it’s” vs. “its”, “you’re” vs. “your”, and “they’re” vs. “their”. The contraction of some pronouns with “to be” sounds the same as the possessive form of the pronoun, and the confusion is exacerbated by the fact that possessive pronouns, unlike nouns, don’t have apostrophes.

    Interestingly, the problem disappears with nouns because possessive nouns *do* take apostrophes, so the two homonymous forms, although different in meaning, are written the same. “Fred’s back from his trip.” “Fred’s back is hurting again.”

    Reply
    • Derek G -  June 20, 2015 - 8:19 am

      “Fred’s back is hurting again.”

      Fred’s back…. reads “Fred is back…” and should read “Freds’ back…..” denoting the possessive – back belonging to Fred.

      Apostrophe AFTER the “s” always denotes the possessive
      Apostrophe before the “s” denotes the absence of other letters
      No apostrophe denotes the plural.

      This is what I learnt in school over 70 years ago.

      Reply
      • interested in English -  September 1, 2015 - 7:50 pm

        school’s changed now buddy!
        only after the “s” if the name ends in s…
        eg. Mrs Harms’ boy was in my class.

        Reply
      • Mary Justina -  November 8, 2016 - 10:56 am

        No, that is not correct nor was it taught that way 70 years ago.

        Reply
  5. MOAR -  May 11, 2015 - 8:54 am

    Who’s is a contraction; it’s short for WHO IS. Whose is used in a sentance like “Whose is that?”

    Reply
  6. fgjdtydtydtydty -  May 6, 2015 - 2:43 pm

    bdhsdjgfyudgfauihui

    Reply
    • Harvey Wachtel -  May 11, 2015 - 10:19 am

      Wonder if you have a Samsung Galaxy phone. I’m always submitting “contributions” like that because the all-too-easily-pressed home key keeps turning it on in my back pocket, after which my butt has a mind of its own. Damn phone.

      Reply
    • Lenny -  May 18, 2015 - 3:18 pm

      ( ͡°͜ ʖ ͡°)

      Reply
  7. Sydney -  May 5, 2015 - 4:20 pm

    Who’s

    Reply
  8. jonathan -  May 1, 2015 - 10:09 pm

    please

    Reply
  9. jonathan -  May 1, 2015 - 10:07 pm

    hi

    Reply
  10. Suzanne Strehl -  April 20, 2015 - 7:23 pm

    Does anyone use to whom or from whom anymore. Always feel like I want to correct them.

    Was once called in English class why a word was supposed to be used in this instance and not in another instance. My reply was it didn’t sound right. She of course wanted the rule for the reasoning. Wasn’t necessarily the wrong answer but not the correct one either.

    Going to look for an application with a grammar tutorial. Anyone know of a good one?

    Reply
    • Frank Casale -  April 23, 2015 - 8:03 pm

      If you find one, please blog me! Or, If I find one I’ll blog you!

      Reply
      • xgxxfg -  April 29, 2015 - 12:11 pm

        theirs there’s

        Reply
      • Doriqan -  May 2, 2015 - 8:33 am

        Eye and Aye

        Reply
        • JESUS -  May 4, 2015 - 6:27 pm

          Awesome

          Reply
    • Juliette -  April 30, 2015 - 5:17 pm

      Who’s. I never say “Whose at the door.”

      Reply
      • interested in English -  September 1, 2015 - 7:51 pm

        u usually pronounce them the same.
        Do u text yor door?

        Reply
    • Ummama Imran -  May 4, 2015 - 12:19 pm

      There is an application called grammarly. Maybe it will hep you

      Reply
      • Ummama Imran -  May 4, 2015 - 12:20 pm

        *help

        Reply
  11. Lol -  April 19, 2015 - 5:34 pm

    Hello?
    Anyone here to comment?

    Reply
    • Dolfin Lover -  April 30, 2015 - 7:53 am

      yes I’m here:)

      Reply
    • Phuc Cazy Dave -  May 4, 2015 - 6:54 am

      Well, there is me and someone else

      Reply
  12. Lol -  April 19, 2015 - 5:33 pm

    Hello?
    Any one here to talk?

    Reply
    • latina -  April 29, 2015 - 8:15 am

      yea

      Reply
    • latina -  April 29, 2015 - 8:15 am

      lol u have a kik

      Reply
  13. John mclauchlin -  April 19, 2015 - 7:58 am

    When to use I vs me

    Reply
    • latina -  April 29, 2015 - 8:21 am

      you have to realize in order for our world to dedicate its love and indicate its life on us we have to banned all the bad people who is me and whose is youth to the informer of our lifes work indeed indeed to improve life work we have to NOWS WHO IS WITH MEEEE IM ONLY 14 AND I BELIEVE IN JESUS

      Reply
      • Me -  May 4, 2015 - 8:04 am

        I do to and Im 12

        Reply
      • Dezz Nutss -  May 4, 2015 - 6:11 pm

        Yeah okay, wth does Jesus have to do with the words “Whose and Who’s,” and maybe not all of us are Christians maybe some of us are Muslims, Jews, etc. (Don’t get mad at me for not naming others those are just the first two to pop up in my mind.) but no offense not tryna be rude or anything.

        Reply
      • leyton -  May 4, 2015 - 8:06 pm

        I do too and I’m 11

        Reply
  14. Joseph Cullinane -  April 17, 2015 - 6:37 pm

    It’s great to see these words used the way they are supposed to be used.Lately,our language is sort of failing us because of the lack of understanding of our language and the correct use of the words.I’ve noticed in everyday talking people add ‘s to words that are not needed and trying to make words plural when they already are plural.Thanks again-Joseph

    Reply
    • Frank Casale -  April 23, 2015 - 8:13 pm

      I agree,Joseph. However, it isn’t the language that is ‘sort of failing us’, rather, it is the educational system that is failing the public!

      Reply
      • Manning -  April 30, 2015 - 8:59 am

        Yes, the educational system of today has its problems, but not emphasizing the importance of grammar is very far down on the list, in my humble opinion. There is today, as there always has been, a significant discrepancy between the spoken and written language. This is simply how language evolves. Grammar rules come into being in order to eliminate ambiguities in the language, and occasionally to adapt to the changes in the spoken language that have become relatively standard in modern parlance.

        Reply
        • Frank Casale -  May 15, 2015 - 6:23 pm

          Manning, you state that ‘not emphasizing the importance of grammar is very far down on the list’. I want to understand your perspective. In your opinion, how would you prioritize ‘the list’ of today’s educational system. That is, the “rank of importance” which should be addressed on the public education agenda.

          Reply
  15. Ahammad Rana -  April 17, 2015 - 12:18 pm

    Really great work!

    Reply
  16. Reza -  April 17, 2015 - 9:39 am

    Dear writer,
    I guess you’ve made a little grammer mistake in your text. In the last paragraph you used “more clunky” instead of “clunkier”. Am I right?
    Please let me know the correct version or the better one,
    Thank you very much,
    Best regards,
    Reza

    Reply
    • Cody -  April 23, 2015 - 9:19 am

      1. Grammar. (No, I’m not criticising you here)
      2. Either works. Clunkier might feel more natural to you. Choose your poison.
      3. They could also have worded it as: though this often has the effect of making the sentence more awkward.

      (the ‘more’ being there to indicate the comparison of the alternative but I suppose you could call it obvious, see below)

      Personally, the last in the list feels more natural to me (it doesn’t make it the correct way; there is more than one way of wording it and this is often how ‘it’ is) and there’s certainly many alternatives. But in the end, language is there to communicate, and clearly the point was made to you. Therefore they didn’t really fail. It is, however, fairly ironic: they could have worded the idea in a less awkward way, while they were to describe the same situation. But they didn’t. It isn’t a problem and it isn’t uncommon.

      Reply
  17. fred lee -  April 17, 2015 - 8:23 am

    Whose fault is it? and who’s the one who identified the bunkum

    Reply
  18. Grampa Wesley -  April 17, 2015 - 4:08 am

    I’ve always enjoyed language and critique the editing in the paper daily. I enjoy these articles as well.

    Reply
    • interested in English -  September 1, 2015 - 7:53 pm

      u have a weird idea of whats enjoyable!
      u only do English if u have to…
      well, most of us do!

      Reply
  19. Julie Bittner -  April 16, 2015 - 3:44 pm

    I was JUST pondering on the correct usages of these two different words. I thought about the way I thought was the correct way and I’m pleased that it happened to be in my email inbox and I discovered, without any further inquiry, that I was correct!!! Yay

    Reply
  20. Bervel -  April 16, 2015 - 1:59 pm

    Very helpful in times of need.

    Reply
  21. Andrew Griffith -  April 16, 2015 - 1:01 pm

    What confuses me is the contraction of “it” and the possessive form of it. One is spell “it’s” and the other is “its”. Which is what?

    Reply
    • Mohamed Usman -  April 22, 2015 - 9:30 am

      its: possessive determiner belonging to or associated with a thing previously mentioned or easily identified. belonging to or associated with a child or animal of unspecified sex.
      it’s: contraction it is, it has.

      Reply
      • jonathan -  May 1, 2015 - 10:06 pm

        cool

        Reply
    • Frank Casale -  April 23, 2015 - 8:16 pm

      See:dictionary.com

      Reply
    • Elle -  April 29, 2015 - 7:05 am

      if you can change your sentence to it is, and it still makes sense, then you use it’s. Its is a possessive word. Like when you don’t know if an animal is male or female but the animal is playing with the ball. “Look, that dog is playing with its ball!” It doesn’t sound right to say “Look that dog is playing with it is ball.”

      This rule has worked for me since my 3rd grade teacher taught it to the class. It makes it’s and its far easier to differentiate.

      Reply
  22. David -  April 16, 2015 - 12:36 pm

    I love the Abbott and Costello reference! I find your explanation clear & concise. Excellent choice of subject matter and for that I award you one gold star. Good job.

    Reply
  23. logmenpls@gmail.com -  April 16, 2015 - 12:11 pm

    I’m thinking of a word; however, its meaning escapes me.

    Reply
  24. Zeinah Alnagheeb -  April 16, 2015 - 12:07 pm

    It’s the best easy way to understand and Learn English grammar no way you can not grasp it.

    Reply
  25. Jan Lane -  April 16, 2015 - 8:26 am

    Sign me up g
    For word fact.

    Reply
    • Jan Lane -  April 16, 2015 - 8:28 am

      Sign me up for Word Fact. Thank u

      Reply
      • jon -  May 1, 2015 - 10:24 am

        your mama

        Reply

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