Word Confusion: Who’s versus Whose

Posted October 17, 2016 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

The words who’s and whose sound so similar, and they are from the same root, hwā, but that doesn’t make it the same. The primary confusion writers have with these two words is the contraction for who’s.

It’s essential to pay attention to that apostrophe and the missing letter it represents. (You may want to explore the post, “Apostrophe“, for a more in-depth look at how this bit of punctuation affects contractions.)

Other “Who” Posts

To avoid confusions, there are other posts that explore the who versus … question, including:

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

If you found this post on “Who’s versus Whose” interesting, consider tweeting it to your friends. Subscribe to KD Did It, if you’d like to track this post for future updates.

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Who’s Whose
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com

Cover for Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf?

Book cover courtesy of Goodreads

Hmmm, “who is” afraid of her?


Cover for Whose Body?, a Dorothy Sayers novel in the Lord Peter Wimsey series

Book cover courtesy of Goodreads

This is the first book in a series I adore, and Lord Peter must discover whose body is in the bathtub.

Part of Grammar:
Personal Pronoun in the Nominative (or Subjective) Case:

  1. Interrogative Pronoun
  2. Relative Pronoun
  3. Restrictive Identifier
Possessive Adjective
Possessive Pronoun
Contraction for who is or who has


Interrogative Pronoun:
What or which person or people

Relative Pronoun:
Used to introduce a clause giving further information about a person or people previously mentioned

  • [Archaic] The person that
  • Whoever

Restrictive Identifier:
Specifically identifies what or which

my, mine, your, yours, his, her, hers, its, our, ours, their, theirs


A possessive in that the noun that follows belongs to or is associated with a person or object mentioned


Interrogative Possessive Determiner AND Pronoun:
Belonging to or associated with which person

Relative Possessive Determiner:
Of whom or which (used to indicate that the following noun belongs to or is associated with the person or thing mentioned in the previous clause)

Can replace of which, especially when the subject is not human

Examples:
Interrogative Pronoun:
Who’s out there?

Who’s that idiot?

Who’s done the reading?

Relative Pronoun:
Joan Fontaine plays the mouse who’s married to the playboy.

Restrictive Identifier:
The suspect in the lineup who’s got red hair committed the crime.

It’s specifically identifies the one with red hair as the one who did it.

Interrogative Possessive Determiner AND Pronoun:
Whose keys are these?

Whose kids are those?

Whose round is it?

A minivan was parked at the curb, and Juliet wondered whose it was.

The company whose stock rose faster was able to expand more quickly.

It was a book whose conclusion was unforgettable.

Relative Possessive Determiner:
He’s a man whose opinion I respect.

History of the Word:
Before 900, Old English and Middle English hwā is cognate with the Old High German hwer, the Gothic hwas, and the Latin quis. Old English hwæs, genitive of hwā meaning who and hwæt meaning what.

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves?

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Pinterest Photo Credits

This photo, “Dr. Who” by aussiegall from Sydney, Australia, was a result of playing with a Tardis money box that was sitting on her cupboard. “Thought it would a fun to take a picture of it and do a touch of photoshopping.” She has released it under a CC BY 2.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons.


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