The Easy Explanation
“Who’s” is a contraction for who+is or who+has: Who’s going to the dance with Jackie tomorrow?
“Whose” is a little complicated. It’s an adjective that is used before a noun to show to whom that noun belongs to: The unlucky girl, whose name is Sue, broke her leg. Is he that comedian whose hair is always messy?
When to Use Who’s vs. Whose
The word “who’s” is simply a contraction (who+is=who’s or who+has=who’s). Although it has that apostrophe—which can sometimes be used in words that show possession—here it does not show possession. “Who’s” quite simply only means who+is or who+has. It never shows possession.
The word “whose” is quite complicated, but it basically is an adjective that is used to help show to whom something belongs or to give more information about someone:
The newscaster, whose scarf was too vivid an orange, looked sickly. (shows to whom something belongs)
The elderly man, whose wife had died last spring, sat quietly on the bench every day. (gives more information about someone)
“Whose” is used in questions to ask about who owns something:
Whose line is it anyway?
Examples of Who’s vs. Whose
- Who’s been in this room already this morning? (meaning who+has)
- Who’s going to drive you home tonight? (meaning who+is)
- Is Morgan Freeman the one whose career got started on “The Electric Company”? (shows to whom something belongs)
- Barack Obama—whose nickname was Barry through college—started using his full name when he moved to New York. (gives more information about someone)
- Whose textbook is this? (asks about who owns something)
How to Remember the Difference
The word “whose” can be complex, so focus on testing to see if “who’s” is the correct word you are looking for. Plug “who is” or “who has” into a sentence. If it makes sentence, then “who’s” is the correct word. If it doesn’t make sense, use “whose.”
Whose in charge around here, anyway?
[WHO IS] in charge around here, anyway? (Still makes sense, so sentence should actually use the word “who’s.”)
Whose Who’s in charge around here, anyway?
Theory Into Practice: Which Is Which?
Is the underlined word correct? See if you can tell.
- The mechanic, who’s arm was broken, learned to use his left hand well.
Wrong: The word can’t be replaced by “who is,” so it should be “whose.”
- Whose going to take out the stinky trash?
Wrong: The word can be replaced by “who is,” so it should be “who’s.”
- My boss, whose desk faced mine, glared at me over the computer.
Right: The word cannot be replaced by “who is,” so “whose” is correct.