Write Right: Who’s Eating Whose Porridge?

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Write RightMy latest peeve is in regard to “who’s” versus “whose.” People sometimes confuse the two. I’m not sure why; perhaps people simply aren’t proofreading their posts and tweets before sharing them. It’s a possibility. It also could be that people truly have forgotten the difference between the two words.

“Who’s” is a contraction for “who is.” The word is commonly heard when the doorbell rings, and nobody feels inclined to answer the door. Everybody starts to query, “Who’s at the door?” If somebody were to open the door, the answer would be readily apparent, but that ruins the mystery of whom is at it.

“Whose” is the possessive form of “who.” This particular word is popular in elementary school, especially with teachers: “Whose sweater is this?” The teachers are met with silence because no one is going to claim ownership to the hideous sweater that was purchased by his or her grandma.

“Who’s” and “whose” can appear together, which could be problematic for people who struggle to choose the correct word and spelling of it. The appearance is relatively rare. For instance, it could occur during a retelling of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” One of the characters, probably Papa Bear or Mama Bear, could ask, “Who’s eating whose porridge?” The question is grammatically correct, but it sounds a little funny. I doubt either bear is going to ask it. They’re simply going to chase Goldilocks out the door.

I hope that grammar discussion clears any lingering confusion regarding the two words. “Who’s” is a contraction; “whose” is a possessive. They don’t mean the same thing, nor should they be mistaken for the other. It could lead to all sorts of problems for the bears and Goldilocks.

Have a grammar question? A writing wrong in need of righting? Let me know on my Facebook page.

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Erin Feldman

Erin Feldman is the director of editorial services at Tenacity5 Media and the founder of Write Right. She's a copywriter, editor, poet, and artist. You can find Erin on .

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6 comments
Hajra
Hajra

LOL! I remember my teacher making a classmate write the difference between whose and who's as a punishment!

And yes, that has been embedded in our minds!

texascopywriter
texascopywriter

Ha! Definitely a pet peeve of mine (I fear I may have too many "pet" peeves when it comes to things of a grammatical nature). ;-)

This particular mistake is rampant! I didn't include it in my latest grammar faux pas article on FWD because I was going for common errors that many don't list on posts about grammar. BUT, I'm so glad you did it here. 

I often think that I may obsess too much over these things. Perhaps it's just my nature in general (this obsessing thing), but I think it's actually because these things are relatively easy to correct in one's writing, yet so many just FAIL to do it! Ugh! Rant over. 

Erin F.
Erin F. moderator

@Hajra  Now that would be memorable. I guess it would keep you on the straight and narrow when it comes to "who's" and "whose."

Erin F.
Erin F. moderator

@texascopywriter I probably have too many peeves, too. I should quit calling them peeves. Maybe I'm just obsessive compulsive. :)

Did you see the post from the Harvard Business Review about grammar? It will give you some ammunition when people say you're just being nitpicky. My favorite point was that people who care about grammar tend to care about other things, too. http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/07/i_wont_hire_people_who_use_poo.html  (I just noticed that somebody at HBR had too much fun finessing the post's address.) 

texascopywriter
texascopywriter

@Erin F. I'm checking it out right now. I love the "finessed" title. Got a huge grin out of me. Thanks, Erin!

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