May 27, 2013

Grammar Hammer: Who’s On First? Whose Line Is It Anyway?

Who? Whom? Whose? Who is? Who has? Huh?! Trying to figure out whether to use “who’s” or “whose” usually ends up with me rewriting my sentence so I don’t have to figure that out. Thanks to a reader suggestion, I am now ready to conquer my fear of who’s vs. whose. While these words sound identical, they serve very different purposes.

Who’s = a contraction of who + is or has. Here’s the easy part – there’s no other use here. This is it.


  • Who’s coming to dinner?
  • Who’s got the remote?
  • I’m meeting the appliance guy at 4 who’s going to try to fix my broken freezer.

Whose = possessive form of who, means “belonging to whom.” Whose usually sits before a noun.


  • “Conscience is a mother-in-law whose visit never ends.” – H. L. Mencken

In this example, “whose” sits in front of the noun “visit” and is used as a relative pronoun (relative pronouns link one phrase or clause to another word in the sentence).

  • Whose shoes are these?

In this example, “whose” sits in front of the noun “shoes” and is used as an interrogative pronoun (interrogative pronouns are used to ask questions.)

Think of it this way, whose is most often used with inanimate objects and non-person entities.

  • Who’s been pilfering irises from my front yard? (Who’s – Who has?)
  • Whose newspaper ended up on my porch this morning? (Whose – The newspaper belonging to whom ended up on my porch this morning.)

Still confused? Quick tip – try replacing the word with “who is” or “who has.” If you know, categorically, that it’s 100% wrong, you need to use whose.

(Click here for a review on who vs. whom.)

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at

Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content service at PR Newswire.

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