We’ve all been there: agonizing over whether or not to add that apostrophe to who. Here’s an easy way to remember the difference. Whose is the possessive form of the pronoun who, while who’s is a contraction of the words who is or who has.
Many people find whose and who’s particularly confusing because in English, an apostrophe followed by an S usually indicates the possessive form of a word. For example, a purse belonging to a woman is “the woman’s purse.” However, in the case of who’s, the apostrophe indicates that a letter has been removed to shorten who is (or who has) into one word, as in the sentence “Who’s sitting in my chair?” (which can be extended to “Who is sitting in my chair?”). Meanwhile, the word whose, which has no apostrophe, is possessive, as exemplified by “Whose purse is this?”
And since you might already be thinking about it, yes, the same confusion also exists between the homophones its and it’s. Its, with no apostrophe, is already the possessive form of the pronoun it (it’s never ” its’) “, while it’s is a contraction of the words it is or it has.
The word whose is often used as an adjective, which is a word that describes or clarifies a noun or a pronoun. In this case, it’s a possessive adjective, which describes who owns something. Traditionally, whose was only used to describe a person or several persons, as in “Sarah, whose dog is cute, just arrived.” In this case whose indicates which person’s (Sarah’s) dog we’re talking about. Imagine it’s raining and you grab an umbrella, only to realize later that it isn’t yours. You might ask your friend “Whose umbrella is this?” In other words, you’re asking who owns the umbrella.
Over time, it’s become grammatically acceptable to use whose to describe things belonging to inanimate objects and places, as in “New York is a city whose lights burn brightly all night long.” Here the lights belong to the city.
If you’re tilting your head, trying to figure out if you need an apostrophe in there, you need to figure out if you need one word (whose) or two (who’s). Substitute in “who is,” and then “who has,” to your sentence. If the answer to either of those replacements is “yep, that makes sense!” your answer is who’s—not “whose”.
Who’s is a contraction, which is a shortened form of two or more words with the omitted letter or letters replaced by an apostrophe. It’s short for who is or who has. For example, the bears in “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” ask each other “Who’s been sitting in my chair?” which can be understood as “who has been sitting in my chair?” And if you’re wondering “Who’s going to write these words with more confidence?” we hope that the answer to who is patting themselves on the back right about now is you.