Homophones: Sound-Alike Words – Whose and Who’s

Who’s versus Whose?

Homophones are sound-alike words. They are spelt differently but sound the same.

Each word has a distinct meaning. If in doubt consult your dictionary or style book. A good proofreader will pick up mistakes such as these but it’s best to get it right in the first place.

So, when do you use who’s and when do you use whose and how do you remember which is which?

Who’s

The apostrophe gives us a clue to this one. It means the word is a contraction of two whole words and there is something missing, such as is found in don’t (do not) or can’t (cannot).

Hence the the word actually means who is. For example:

Who’s that over there?’

‘He’s the man who’s wanted.’

It sometimes helps to think of the apostrophe as an insertion point – it’s (it is) telling you there should be something else there. The exception is when it is a possessive apostrophe.

So why the Tardis? I hear you ask. I just couldn’t resist using the following example:

Who’s (who is) that in the Tardis?

Whose

This is quite easy to remember. It is a belonging word. In other words something belongs to someone or something. Let’s make this clearer (hopefully).

Whose Tardis is that? (To whom does the Tardis belong?)

Whose car is that? (To whom does the car belong?)

That’s the man whose dog caused the accident. (The dog belonging to the man caused the accident.)

We saw several houses whose windows had been blown out. (The windows belonging to several houses had been blown out.)

How do you remember?

To recap:

The apostrophe means that who’s is a contraction of two words, who is.

Whose is a belonging word; the se belongs to the word who.

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