The Oxbridge Editing Blog 18th December 2023

Whose and Who’s: What’s the Difference?

18th December 2023
Speak right now to our live team of English staff

In grammar, subtle nuances can make a significant difference in conveying meaning accurately. The homophones “Whose” and “who’s”, for example, sound similar, but their usage differs markedly. In short: “whose” signifies possession, while “who’s” is a contraction indicating “who is” or “who has.” In this blog post, we’ll explore in depth these two commonly confused words, especially for non-native English speakers, giving examples and practical tips to ensure you wield these words with precision in your writing.


Let’s begin by dissecting the possessive pronoun “whose.” 

Whose” is used to indicate possession or ownership. It is equivalent to “of whom” or “belonging to whom.” For instance:

  • The author, whose novel captivated readers, is receiving numerous accolades.

In this sentence, “whose” introduces a relative clause and denotes possession, highlighting that the novel belongs to the author.


On the other hand, “who’s” is a contraction of “who is” or “who has.” It merges the pronoun “who” with the verb forms “is” or “has.” Here’s an example:

  • Who’s coming to the party tonight?

In this context, “who’s” is a contraction representing “who is.” It’s essential to note that “who’s” is not possessive, and using it to indicate possession is a common grammatical error.

Common Errors

One frequent pitfall is mistakenly using “who’s” when indicating possession. Let’s explore an example to illustrate this:

  • The student, who’s notebook was left in the classroom, should retrieve it.

In this instance, the correct usage is “whose” because it denotes possession. The revised sentence should read: The student, whose notebook was left in the classroom, should retrieve it.

Examples for Clarity

Incorrect: The scientist who’s experiment yielded groundbreaking results was awarded.

Correct: The scientist whose experiment yielded groundbreaking results was awarded.

Incorrect: The athlete, who’s determination was unmatched, secured the gold medal.

Correct: The athlete, whose determination was unmatched, secured the gold medal.

Practical Tips for Correct Usage

Remember the Possession Rule:

    • When indicating possession, use “whose.” Think of it as a possessive pronoun similar to “his” or “her.”

Contractions Are Action Words:

    • If you can substitute “who’s” with “who is” or “who has” in your sentence, then you’re on the right track. If not, and you’re expressing possession, opt for “whose.”

Practice with Examples:

    • Familiarise yourself with both terms by creating sentences and distinguishing between possessive and contraction contexts. This hands-on practice can enhance your understanding.


Now you should hopefully have a clearer understanding of the main distinction between  “whose” and “who’s” and you can navigate the terrain of possessive pronouns and contractions with confidence. To recap: “whose” means possession, while “who’s” is a contraction of “who is” or “who has.” By practising with examples and staying vigilant during proofreading, you’ll ensure your writing is grammatically sound and conveys your intended meaning effectively.

Still can’t tell your whose from who’s? Let us meticulously review your content – our editors will polish your grammar, fix punctuation, and refine sentence structure. Whether you need to proofread your dissertation or edit your CV we can help enhance the quality of your writing.