Who vs. Whose Grammar: How to Use Them Correctly

‘Who’ and ‘whose’ are often confused and it gets even knottier when ‘who’s’ and ‘whom’ are thrown into the mix.

When you put ‘who’s’ and who together, they sound the same, but the difference in spelling is also indicative of a difference in meaning.

Even native English speakers may have difficulty using these words, especially when ‘who’s’ is involved.

Who’s, a contraction of ‘who is/has,’ and whose both come from the pronoun ‘who’ and are homophones, but they cannot be used interchangeably.

Once you get differences like these out of the way, deciding on which word to use becomes quite easy.

If you’re one of those who confuse the two words, this is the exact article you need. By the end of this article, you will know the difference between these words and you’ll no longer doubt your choice of word when it comes to the two.

Before we get to the differences, let’s look at the definition of each word.

who vs. whose grammar how to use them correctly

Describing ‘Who’

Who is a subject pronoun and is always subject to a verb. A point to note here is that the subject of a sentence is the one doing the action.

This means that “Who,” the subjective pronoun, is the doer of an action.

For example, “I’m the one who took the money.” In this sentence, ‘who’ is the subject of “took” because the speaker did the ‘taking.’

As an interrogative pronoun, ‘who’ takes the form of ‘what or which person(s)?’

So, “Who” and its derived forms can be to form questions like these:

  • Who is that?
  • Who are they?
  • Who said that?
  • Who was at the ball?
  • Who did you see yesterday?
granddaughter playing guess who game with aged grandmother
Granddaughter playing guess who game with aged grandmother.

However, ‘who’ can also be used in other sentences other than direct questions. “Who” and its derivatives can be used to form relative clauses.

Examples:

  • “These are the despicable people, the ones who mercilessly killed the dog.”
  • The stranger who helped us move is from New Orleans.
  • His loud music woke up the baby, who was in the next room.
  • The second candidate, who had a good résumé, was overlooked by the board.
  • The one who lies is usually inconsistent.

Describing ‘Whose’

Whose is a possessive pronoun, the possessive form of ‘who’ and ‘which.’ It is used when you’re questioning or stating to whom something belongs.

It usually refers to a person, but it may also be used to refer to a pet or a location.

“Whose” serves 2 different purposes:

1. as an adjective  

Examples:

  • Whose cat is this?
  • They found out that it was Jefferson, whose name had been deleted from the payroll.

In this sentence, the possessive adjective ‘whose’ modifies the noun cat. Whose is also used as an interrogative adjective, usually used in questions to ask who the owner of an item is

2. as a pronoun

“That which belongs to whom.” In this case, ‘whose’ is used without a following noun just to act as a typical pronoun.

Examples:

  • Nobody knows whose it was.
  • We all knew whose were whose, so everyone stuck to their own.
mother and daughter comparing the length of their hair
Mother and daughter comparing the length of their hair.

Whose vs. Who’s

What is the Difference between Whose and Who’s?

This is almost a summary of everything you’re going to learn about ‘who’ and ‘whose.’

We can refer to “who” as the root word in this type of discussion. The reason is that the other words—who’s, whose, and whom—come from ‘who.’

‘Who’ is used to mean “what or which person or people” and ‘who’s’ is just a contraction.

It is either a shortened form:

Who + is

Or

Who + has

Examples:

  • Who’s the man outside?” he angrily enquired.
  • Who’s going with me?”
whose vs who's

On the other hand, ‘Whose’ is the possessive form of ‘who’ and is used to ask or describe who owns something or has something.

To make this difference clearer and help you next time you want to decide between who’s vs. whose, do this:

Always replace the words who is/who has into your sentence. If the sentence doesn’t sound grammatically correct after the substitution, don’t use ‘who’s.’

I should also add that, although we often think of ‘whose’ as being a possessive pronoun or adjective, the relationships in the sentence or clause are usually more complex than mere ownership.

‘Whose’ possessive quality can also be used to indicate association, agency, or the receiving of an action.

When to use Who

‘Who’ is used as the subject in a sentence or refers back to the subject in that sentence. This means who is always associated with the action in a sentence.

Example:

  • Who painted such a horrible mural?
  • Who is going to replace him at the function?
  • They found a new lawyer, one who has won all his cases.
  • The referee, who was seemingly tired, ended the match prematurely.

When to Use Whose

‘Whose’ is used as a possessive pronoun or adjective. It is used to question or describe who owns something.

Examples:

  • The Johnsons, whose car got stolen yesterday, were given a house by the council.
  • I think I know whose shoe this is.
  • Whose pencils are these?
  • Whose company are you going to ruin next?

Typically, ‘whose’ is used to refer to a person or people; for example, “John, whose car was made in Germany, likes foreign things.” Or “It was the neighbors, whose lawn was burnt, who complained about hooliganism.”

In the two statements, ‘whose’ describes the owners of the car and lawn, who are people.

However, ‘whose’ can also be used to describe things belonging to inanimate objects. For example, it is grammatically correct to say,   “Los Angeles is a city whose beaches call my soul.”

In this sentence, ‘whose’ has been used to describe the beaches, which belong to Los Angeles, a place not a person or people.

A video that explains when to use who and whose, as well as whom.

Final Words on Who vs. Whose

The words who, whom, whose, and the contraction, who’s, are still confusing for English speakers, especially language learners. 

They are all a bit different (especially in the way they are used), and understanding why they differ can clear up all the confusion.

“Who” is used as the subject of a sentence or clause to specify which person did an action or what kind of state a person is in. 

‘Whose’ is a possessive pronoun, used to “whom something belongs to.”

The real confusion comes when ‘who’s’ is involved. Some people confuse ‘who’s’ with ‘whose’ because they don’t know that the two words are just homophones.

Well… just like bare and bear.  

Once you understand this, it is game over for this terrorizing grammar error!

About Jessica Majewski

Jessica started off as an avid book reader. After reading one too many romance novels (really... is it ever really enough?), she decided to jump to the other side and started writing her own stories.

She now shares what she has learned (the good and the not so good) here at When You Write, hoping she can inspire more up and coming wordsmiths to take the leap and share their own stories with the world.