Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

Who’s or whose?

with 4 comments

Hins-Anders painted by Anders Zorn, 1904
Image via Wikipedia

Who’s

“Who’s” is short for “who is” or “who has”.

If you’ve written “who’s” in your sentence, read it back to yourself as “who is” or “who has” to check that you’ve used it correctly.

For example:

The man who’s (who is) playing the violin is very famous.

Who’s (who has) finished their homework?

Whose 

“Whose” is used in sentences where “who’s” (“who is” or “who has”) would not make sense, for example:

Whose hat is that?

You would not write:

Who’s (who is) hat is that?

or:

Who’s (who has) hat is that?

And so ‘whose’ would be correct:

Whose hat is that?

Similarly, look at the following correct sentences:

The man whose head fell off is feeling much better today.

Whose turn is it to go first?

Try reading “who is” or “who has” for “whose”. Neither works in these sentences, and so “whose” is correct in both cases.

Read more about this on the excellent Sentence first blog.

More commonly confused words

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Written by Wordwatch

29/03/2010 at 2:50 pm

4 Responses

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  1. I found a photo in my local paper of an expensive graphic at the start of a major, months-long criminal trial. The prosecution, over an old photo of the defendant’s face at the time of the crimes, had projected for the jury the question “Who’s DNA?”

    I am confident that many people, from the prosecution team to the defense, judge, jury consultants, and graphics team, had all previously reviewed and approved the graphic.

    Michael Farrell

    29/03/2010 at 3:32 pm

    • I hope the prosecution managed to find out who the mysterious DNA was.

      Deborah

      29/03/2010 at 3:40 pm

      • On a serious note, I was sure the defendant was guilty of some really gruesome crimes (he’d even been convicted twice before, but had successfully appealed). But I wasn’t exactly encouraged when the sloppy graphic popped up at the start of trial. The jury — apparently not grammar sticklers — eventually found the guy guilty on all counts; the police are actively looking into older unsolved crimes, also using his DNA.

        Michael Farrell

        29/03/2010 at 4:09 pm

        • Yes, I know exactly what you mean. I wasn’t really being flippant about it — just illustrating the pitfalls of bad grammar and the misunderstandings that can arise as a result. Who cares in an email to a mate, but a court case? That’s scary.

          Deborah

          29/03/2010 at 4:18 pm


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