Everyone makes the occasional typo or grammatical slip-up. That’s why we have editors—and Facebook friends who insist on correcting our use of whose vs. who’s or there, their, and they’re (“It was two in the morning, and I was texting from my phone in the dark, Jeremy! Give me a break!”).
In informal situations a grammatical misstep isn’t serious (unless you’re Jeremy), but similar mistakes make professional writing look sloppy and detract from your message. Rightly or not, people see grammatical errors as a sign of disorganization, which affects your branding and reputation.
This brings us to the problem of whose vs. who’s and which to use when. Like its/it’s and there/their/they’re, whose vs. who’s is one of those common grammar problems that isn’t as complicated as it seems. The two words are used in entirely different circumstances.
Whose is the possessive form of the pronoun who, just as your is the possessive form of you. Whose generally appears before a noun (or an adjective preceding a noun) to denote ownership or association with the noun:
Who’s is not a possessive pronoun. This explains much of the confusion in the whose vs. who’s dilemma. Adding an apostrophe plus s to a word usually makes it possessive:
In contrast, who’s is a contraction of “who is” or “who has”:
The simplest way to check if you’re using whose and who’s correctly is to substitute “who is” or “who has” for either word and see if the sentence makes sense. For instance, let’s use the following sentence:
When substituting “who is,” you get “Who is toenails are these?” That makes no sense, so whose is the correct word to use. Only use who’s as a substitute for “who is” or “who has,” and you’ll be fine.
(And in case you were wondering, those were Jeremy’s toenails. The man’s a monster.)
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