What’s the Difference? Who vs. Whose

People at Fountain– The people who are in this picture are having fun.

– The people who I see are having fun.

– The people whose faces I am looking at seem happy.

Each of these three sentences contains an adjective clause that describes the word people.  Two sentences begin with who and the other with whose.  How do who and whose differ?

Who is a pronoun. It can replace either the subject or the object* of an adjective clause.

–  The people are having fun.  They are in this picture.

–  The people who are in this picture are having fun.

–  The people are having fun.  I see them.

–  The people who I see are having fun.

* In formal English, we use whom to replace the object, but this is rarely heard nowadays.  The only place you will find whom is after a preposition:  The man to whom I am speaking is my boss.

Whose acts like an adjective. It replaces possessive adjectiveMy / Your / Our / Their / His / Her / Its.

– The people seem happy.  I am looking at their faces.

-The people whose faces I am looking at seem happy.

When I use whose, I must keep the noun that the possessive adjective modifies and move the two together to the beginning of the adjective clause.

Two Businessmen

Here is a sentence that contains a common mistake: The men whose work downtown are busy.

The student who wrote this forgot that whose is an adjective.  It must accompany a noun.  It replaces a possessive.  This student needed a pronoun instead.  He needed who.  Here is what the sentence really says:

–  The men are busy.  They work downtown.

–  The men who work downtown are busy.

Because “they” is the subject of the sentence, the student needed to replace it with who and not whose.

Here is another common mistake:  A phone who its screen is big is easier to use.

The student who wrote this forgot that when we are showing that one thing belongs to another in an adjective clause, we replace the possessive adjective with whose.

–  A phone is easier to use.  Its screen is big.

–  A phone whose screen is big is easier to use.

Practice:  Look at the sentences below.  Some are correct.  Some are not.  If the sentences are NOT correct, fix them.  The answers are below.

  1. A cat is an animal who its fur is very soft.

 

  1. English is a language whose spelling is difficult.

 

  1. The students whose study at this school come from all over the world.

 

  1. Would you please introduce me to people who I can practice English with?

 

  1. They students whose their apartment I visited were very messy.

 

  1. The woman who helped me made me feel better.

 

  1. I want to know more people whose native language is English.

 

  1. She would like to find a doctor whose is inexpensive.

 

  1. Apple is a company whose products are known worldwide.

 

  1. Students who practice a lot improve quickly.

 

 

Answers:

  1. A cat is an animal whose fur is very soft.
  1. English is a language whose spelling is difficult.
  1. The students who study at this school come from all over the world.
  1. Would you please introduce me to people who I can practice English with?
  1. They students whose apartment I visited were very messy.
  1. The woman who helped me made me feel better.
  1. I want to know more people whose native language is English.
  1. She would like to find a doctor who is inexpensive.
  1. Apple is a company whose products are known worldwide.
  1. Students who practice a lot improve quickly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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