Who’s whosing whom?

“There were children right on the streets of my hometown who’s cries finally reached my ears.”

I sympathize. With the children, and with the writer who blew the who’s.

It seems right, doesn’t it, to use who’s when you’re talking about something that belongs to the who? If something belongs to Doug, it’s Doug’s. We learned in grade school about the “apostrophe S.”

But in fact, when it comes to who, it’s backwards from how it seems it ought to be. Because English is a complicated language.

The rules about who’s and whose are simple. Memorize them. Memorizing them is the only way to survive, because they’re counter-intuitive.

Rule #1. Whose is the possessive. Always.

If you’re talking about something that belongs to someone — those pitiful little cries belong to those pitiful little children — it’s always whose. Never who’s.

Rule #2. Who’s is a contraction, and only a contraction.

Who’s means either who is or who has:

  • Who’s that knockin’ at my door? (Who is that knocking at my door?)
  • Who’s been messin’ with my baby? (Who has been messing with my baby?)

(There is one other possible point of confusion, which I hesitate to mention, but I will: Dr. Seuss wrote about “the Whos down in Whoville.” This is totally different. Not possessive, not a contraction. Not spelled whose and not spelled who’s. But also not something you have to worry about — unless you’re talking about the Whos down in Whoville. Which, I assume, you usually aren’t.)

One thought on “Who’s whosing whom?

  1. Love it – and always have to think twice about this one. I’m told it’s helpful to connect “whose” with “his” and “hers” to remind oneself of the possession-without-an-apostrophe gig, but yes, this scenario makes your point perfectly – lots of confusion due to that apostrophe doing multiple jobs. (Let’s not even talk about “it’s” versus “its” – another of those possession-without-an-apostrophe deals … and instances where (believe it or not) I’ve seen “her’s” as the possessive – argh.) I’ve heard there’s a movement to get rid of apostrophes altogether … they’re such a pain when texting!


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