Grammar: who's vs. whose

I've been seeing some confusion between these two words around the internet, so I thought I'd go over the basics.

Whether to use "who's" or "whose" is a question of contraction vs. possession.

Knowing that, it's pretty clear which is which, isn't it? But it's when people come to using the possessive variety that I often see them fall back on the contraction.

So here are a few examples of the rights and wrongs of this minefield.

Correct: "Who's that?"
(Contracted version of "Who is that?")

Correct: "Who's been here before?"
(Contraction of "Who has been here before?")

Incorrect: "Who's cake is that?"
(To check this: it would be weird if you said "Who is cake is that?"
Also, this is another way of saying "Who does that cake belong to?")

Correct: "Whose cake is that?"
(It is a question of possession.)

Incorrect: The man who's dog ran away.
(Check: "The man who is dog ran away?" That doesn't make sense.)

Correct: The man whose dog ran away.
(The dog belongs to the man.)

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Botanist said...

Good examples. This is similar to "it's versus its" that also confuses people. These are the exceptions to the usual rules about possessives. I think folks are so used to possessives having an apostrophe that they feel a subconscious urge to stick one in where it doesn't belong.

Ryan Sullivan said...

Yes, it's because we see it so often in names, isn't it? But unfortunately the rules of one area of grammar don't seem to follow over to other areas.

Karen Lange said...

Great review, thanks. As much as I dislike reading these errors (like in our local paper) they are easy to make. This is why I am thankful for the editing stage.

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