Whose vs. Who’s: Meaning and How to Use Them

Grammar Rules updated on  September 8, 2023 4 min read

Whose shows that something belongs to someone, while who’s means “who is.”

Whose or who’s, which should you use? Since these two words look and sound similar but have different meanings, care is key. You don’t want to confuse your readers or look uneducated by making a basic error.

QuillBot's Grammar Checker provides a dependable way to double-check your work, but it’s still smart to learn the how and when of using who’s and whose. Read on to do just that.

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Whose meaning and usage

Whose shows that something belongs to or is related to a person, thing, or idea. When it’s immediately followed by a noun, it’s an adjective. But when no noun follows it, it’s a pronoun. Let’s look at some examples:

I saw some shoes in the hallway. Whose are they? (pronoun)

Filling the car with balloons is a crazy idea—tell me whose. (pronoun)

My parents are the only couple whose 40th anniversary I’ve celebrated. (adjective)

She gazed up at the sunset, whose rays streamed like ribbons across the sky. (adjective)

Notice that in the last example, whose indicates that the rays belong to the sunset. This seems wrong because the sunset is not a living entity and therefore can’t possess anything. But it highlights a funny gap in English: we don’t have a pronoun showing possession by an inanimate object. So in these cases, we think of the rays as related to the sun rather than as the sun’s possession, and whose is right. Or we can rephrase the sentence:

She gazed up at the sunset, the rays of which streamed like ribbons across the sky.

She gazed up at the sunset, and its rays streamed like ribbons across the sky.

Whether the subject of your sentence is a living being or not, the easiest way to know whether to use whose or who’s is just to remember the meaning of who’s.

Who’s meaning and usage

Who’s has only one meaning: it’s a contraction of who is or who has. So the simplest way to avoid confusing whose and who’s is to check whether who is or who has fits in your sentence.

Who’s going to finish washing the dishes?

I’m not sure who’s at the door.

My grandfather is the only one who’s always encouraged me in my career.

Who is fits in the first two examples, and who has fits in the third one, so these are all correct.

In the third example above, who’s (who has) is showing an action that extends into the past, and this is the most common use. But some people also use who’s when who has indicates possession. Here’s an example:

Who’s a sheet of paper I can use?

You’re much more likely to hear this type of use in the UK than in the US. It can be confusing to US English speakers because they’re likely to understand it as asking who is a sheet of paper rather than who has one. A US English speaker would say who has or phrase the question like this (which is also a likely phrasing for a UK English speaker):

Who’s got a sheet of paper I can use?

But since who’s is only rarely used to show possession, you’ll probably be safe thinking of it as shown in the first three examples instead.

How to use whose and who’s

This pair of words confuses writers because the usual way to form a possessive in English is to add an apostrophe and s. However, that rule applies to nouns, while whose is an adjective or pronoun:

✘ Can you tell me who’s paper this is?

✔ Can you tell me whose paper this is? (Whose is an adjective.)

✔ This is Jamal’s paper. (Jamal is a noun.)

Using who’s as the possessive form of who would be like using he’s as the possessive form of he (it’s actually the possessive pronoun his). Possessive pronouns don’t contain apostrophes.

In short, you can remember the difference by following these tips:

  1. Remember that apostrophes are used in possessive forms of nouns (but not adjectives or pronouns), and they’re also used in contractions. In this case, the apostrophe is in a contraction (who’s).
  2. Remember that if who is or who has fits grammatically in your sentence, who’s is the right word. If it doesn’t, use whose.
  3. Think of each one of these words as part of a set following a specific pattern: possessive pronouns (his, hers, whose) or contractions (he’s, she’s, who’s).

No matter what type of writing you’re doing, checking and rechecking it for errors is the way to go. Try QuillBot’s Grammar Checker and other expert writing tools, like the Paraphraser and the Plagiarism Checker.

Whose vs. who’s—you’ve got this

The difference between whose and who’s is a matter of possession vs. contraction. With the right tools, you can pick the correct word every time and spot errors in your text before they affect your grade or your reputation.

How do you use whose in a sentence?

Use whose to show that something belongs to a person or thing, for example, “The tortoise, whose legs were short, could never keep up with the hare.” In this sentence, whose shows that the legs belong to the tortoise.

Whose name vs. who's name?

The correct phrase is whose name because whose shows that the name belongs to someone. Who’s name means “who is name,” which makes no sense.


Hannah Skaggs

Along with Mitchell Allen

Hannah, a writer and editor since 2017, specializes in clear and concise academic and business writing. She has mentored countless scholars and companies in writing authoritative and engaging content.

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