Teaching Tips: Who's Vs. Whose

Who’s going to tell us whose idea this was?

English has many tricky homophones, like too, to, and two; they’re, there, and their; and you’re and your. Today we’ll focus on who’s and whose, which are particularly confusing when used in adjective clauses. Help your students remember which one to use by presenting these terms using the method below.

Who’s

Meaning: Short for who is (or, more infrequently, who has). It involves a subject pronoun used for one person (usually in a question or adjective clause) and a third person singular verb.

Structure: Who’s usually comes at the beginning of a sentence when it’s a question. For adjective clauses, who’s comes after the subject or object noun it’s describing. For noun clauses, who’s comes at the beginning of a sentence or after the main subject and verb.

Tricks:

1) Say who is to yourself as you read or write the sentence. If it’s possible to say who is, write who’s, not whose.

2) Look at the noun that follows. If there is an article like a, an, or the, use who’s. Also, if there is no noun, use who’s.

Examples:

  • Who’s coming to the party tonight? (Who is, no noun following)
  • My friend who’s a nurse said that I had the flu. (who is, followed by a noun with article a)
  • The lead singer, who’s famous for his antics onstage, jumped into the crowd. (who is, no noun following)

Whose

Meaning: A possessive adjective that means “belonging to or associated with a person or people”.

Structure: Whose has the same structure as who’s, which is why it can be confusing. Like who’s, whose usually comes at the beginning of a sentence when it’s a question, after the subject or object noun it’s describing in adjective clauses, and at the beginning of a sentence or after the main subject and verb for noun clauses.

Tricks:

1) Say who is to yourself as you read or write the sentence. If it’s not possible to say who is, write whose, not who’s.

2) Look at the noun that follows the term. If there is no article like a, an, or the, use whose. Also, whose must be followed by a noun. So if there is no noun, use who’s.

Examples:

  • Whose shoes are these? (not who is shoes, followed by a noun with no article)
  • The person whose car is parked illegally in front should immediately move it. (not who is car, followed by a noun with no article)
  • Our mayor, whose name I can never remember, set a city-wide curfew. (not who is name, followed by a noun with no article)

Hope this helped everyone whose brains were muddled with these terms,

Tanya

4 comments

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  1. internap@yahoo.com'

    Dawood Phillip (@Dawood627) says:

    Aug 13, 2014 at 5:25 pm

    These pointers are really important. What I have come to realize is that in every English speaking country the people have omitted certain words from their daily lives, maybe because they lack knowledge of its usage or it conflicts with the euphony of the spoken accent. I think in my home country of Trinidad “whose” is one of the words we have stopped using.

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Aug 15, 2014 at 8:50 pm

      It’s interesting to hear about English in Trinidad! Thanks for sharing.

      Reply

  2. nuritcarmona@gmail.com'

    Nurit. Carmona says:

    Sep 16, 2013 at 10:48 am

    I don’t teach English, but I found your explanations. and tricks enlightening and useful.
    Thank you.

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Sep 18, 2013 at 6:15 pm

      Thanks for your comment! I agree that anyone can benefit from English grammar pointers, not just students. As an editor, I see all sorts of people having trouble because English is a complicated language. Tricks help us all…I use them too! :)

      Reply

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