Sunday, March 25, 2007

Whose and Who’s

Q. Today’s edition of [a local newspaper] contained this sentence in an article in the Sports Section: “Quite a story for a guy who’s first swimming lesson was 10 years ago.”
Shouldn’t that be whose? Jean/Petoskey, MI

A. It most definitely should. Good call on your part. The easiest solution is to remember that who’s is a contraction. It stands for who is; the apostrophe replaces the -i-. Saying “a guy who is first swimming lesson . . .” out loud should tip you off to the error. Correct examples would include

• Who’s your daddy?
• I asked him who’s in charge.
• Who’s responsible for this mess?

If you’ve never heard the “Who’s on First” routine of Abbott and Costello, read it here:

Whose is a possessive pronoun, and it may be rendered as belonging to whom. It always involves ownership or intimate connection. Here are some correct uses:

• This is a word whose origins are lost in the mists of history.
• When I find out whose wallet this is, I’ll return it.
• Quite a story for a guy whose first swimming lesson was 10 years ago

A famous use of the word may be found in the opening lines of Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. Read the poem here:

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