You’re staring at the sentence, but the answer isn’t coming to you. “Is it whose or who’s?”
You know this one. Or you’re sure you knew it at some point.
But right now, you’re drawing a blank.
What’s the rule? How are you supposed to know which one to use?
“Where does Google weigh in on this?” you ask, tapping your question into the search field.
Moments later, you’re reading this post and thinking, “Aha! Now, it all makes sense.”
Welcome to the Authority Pub guide on how and when to use whose vs. who’s.
How and When to Use Whose Vs. Who’s
Fortunately, the English language comes with rules that clearly distinguish whose and who’s — as well as other homophones.
Those are words that sound exactly the same but mean something completely different:
- here vs. hear
- throne vs. thrown
- to vs. too vs. two
You get it. Read on to learn what “whose” and “who’s” both mean and how to use each.
When to Use Whose
If you can answer the question, “Are you showing possession?” with “yes,” the word you need is whose.
Whose is a possessive pronoun. And while we use apostrophes to show possession when we’re not using pronouns, possessive pronouns — including whose, his, hers, theirs, ours, and its — don’t have them.
- She’s the woman whose purse was stolen.
- I don’t know whose car I’m looking at.
- I’m looking at a child whose grandmother clearly spoils her.
As you’ll see in these and other examples, the word that comes after “whose” is always a noun. It’s the thing “whose” is describing.
You also use it when you’re asking a question about possession.
- Whose car is parked out front?
- Whose job is at stake here?
- Whose house is the one with the bright blue shutters?
You would not use it to mean “who is” or “who has,” both of which can be shortened to the contraction “who’s.”
- Incorrect: “Whose there?” (“There” is not a noun.)
- Correct: “Who’s there?” (Who + is)
- Incorrect: “Whose got the answer?” (“Got” is not an noun.)
- Correct: “Who’s got the answer?” (Who + has)
When to Use Who’s
The question to ask here is “Can you put ‘Who is’ or ‘Who has’ in its place?” If the answer is yes, you need “Who’s,” which is a contraction. That’s two words joined together by contracting the second word and attaching the two with an apostrophe.
- It + is = It’s
- Who + is = Who’s
- They + are = They’re
If you can’t substitute “Who is” or “Who has” without changing the meaning of your sentence (or making it hella awkward), “who’s” won’t work either.
- “Who’s phone is this?” = “Who is phone is this?” or “Who has phone is this?”
- “I don’t know who’s glasses those are.” = “I don’t know who is/has glasses those are.”
Also, if the word that comes next is a noun, and you’re showing possession, the word you need is ‘whose.”
- Incorrect: “Who’s phone…” (“Who is phone…?” or “Who has phone…?”)
- Correct: “Whose phone…?”
- Incorrect: “Who’s glasses…” (“Who is glasses” or “Who has glasses”)
- Correct: “Whose glasses…?”
Whose and Who’s Sentence Examples
Here’s a brief summary of the rules:
- Whose + noun (to show possession)
- Who’s = “Who is” or “Who has”
To further cement those rules in your head, here are some examples that show the correct usage for both who’s and whose.
Examples for Who’s:
- Who’s going to tell her? (Who + is)
- Who’s got the short straw this time? (Who + has)
- It’s a regular who’s who of stand-up comedians. (Who + is)
- Who’s forgotten to wash their hands? (Who + has)
Examples for Whose:
- Whose side are you on?
- Whose line is it anyway?
- I know whose dog has been napping in my flowerbed.
- Was it you whose voice I heard last night?
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When should you use whom instead of who?
In each of the simplest “whose” constructions, you can rephrase it as “To whom does ____ belong?”
- Whose glasses are these? = To whom do these glasses belong?
- Whose phone is this? = To whom does this phone belong?
Longer sentences get messy when you try that, but this brings us to another common who-related question: When should you use whom instead of who?
There’s a simple rule to tell them apart:
- Who is a subject pronoun.
- Whom is an object pronoun.
So, you’ll only use “whom” if it’s the object of a verb or preposition, as in the following examples:
- To whom am I speaking?
- Whom did he ask to the dance?
- Whom does it hurt if I leave early?
- “Ask not for whom the bell tolls…”
“Who” is always in the subject position of a sentence or clause.
- Who is this?
- Who killed JFK?
- I found out who my teachers are for this year.
Caveat #1: Whenever your verb is a “be verb” (is, are, was, were…), you’ll find subject pronouns on either side of it. In these cases, the be verb links together subjects who identify with each other.
- I didn’t know who they were until they took off their masks. (They are who — not whom.)
- I don’t know who you are anymore! (You are who — not whom.)
Caveat #2: With “like” or “as,” — or in constructions with “than” — you’re also dealing with an identity question, and if you’re using pronouns, you’ll need the subject form. The following examples include an implied verb in parentheses to make this clearer.
- I wish I were a faster runner than she (is).
- No one knows more about that cave than we (do).
When “who” is the pronoun used with like, as, or than, it’s usually used to ask a question.
- Who did you say she was faster than?
- Who among our relatives is she most like, do you think?
Most people would agree that “whom” sounds a bit stuffy. It sounds more formal, anyway. But the more you train yourself to use it correctly, the less likely you are to use the wrong pronoun when it matters most — for example, in a job interview or when you’re writing an academic paper.
The same goes for knowing whether to use whose or who’s in a sentence others will read. Using the right words makes your writing clear and easy to understand. Your reader won’t have any reason to stop and think, “Oh….oops.”
And you’ll both be happier for it.
Who’s more confident now about when to use whose?
By learning how to use “whose” and “who’s” correctly — as well as “who” and “whom” — you’re sharpening your skills as a writer. You’re learning how to create content free of mistakes that could interrupt your reader mid-sentence.
You know how it is when you’re reading and you run into a sentence that uses a “there” where a “their” should be. It stops you cold and wrecks your concentration.
Readers don’t need that. You don’t need that. And once you get familiar with the rules that keep those homophones where they belong, you won’t have that anymore.