I’d like to further furrow your brows and add another twitch to your eye by proposing a new linguistic corruption…
Let’s get rid of the word whose.
For those of you who’ve forgotten your middle school English lessons, whose is used when we’re indicating possession, as in, “Whose wombat shampoo is this?”
Who’s, on the other hand, is used as a contraction of “who is” or “who has,” as in “Who’s been stealing my wombat shampoo?”
We don’t need both words.
Yeah, they’re homophones, and they technically “mean” two different things, but unlike other possession/contraction homophones (your and you’re, for example), the whose/who’s distinction isn’t necessary. There are no instances in which using who’s instead of whose would result in confusion.*
Whose is an Old English relic from the genitive case of the word who. The genitive case is just a fancy way of saying it was the ‘ownership’ form. In Old English, most of our pronouns had different genitive cases to differentiate from the nominative case (he becomes his and she becomes hers, etc). In those cases, it makes sense to keep the different forms because they sound different and can cause confusion or ambiguity if they’re used interchangeably. From a semantic standpoint, a different whose isn’t needed for contextual understanding in modern English. Instead, who’s can and should pull double duty in the possession and contraction cases, and I’ll prove it to you.
Take a look at the indefinite pronouns we use in English — words like everyone, everything, anybody, somebody, and something. These words are all pronouns, just like who and whose. They all have similar grammar functions in sentences, and they all come from roots that had different genitive forms in Old English. But unlike who and whose, none of the indefinite pronouns kept those genitive forms, and English speakers collectively realized that we don’t need different forms for their possessive and contraction forms. They all just add an apostrophe and an s and context does the rest.
You can’t just steal somebody’s wombat shampoo and hope to get away with it!
Well, Somebody’s been stealing my wombat shampoo, too!
In the first sentence, the word somebody’s acts as a possessive. It shows ownership of the wombat shampoo. In the second sentence, somebody’s acts as a contraction of “somebody has.” And guess what? Neither one confused you because you used the power of context to understand both sentences.
But if we wanted to use who as the pronoun instead of somebody in those sentences, we’d need a whole new word for the possessive:
Whose wombat shampoo did you steal?
I don’t know…somebody’s. But I only did it because somebody’s been stealing mine!
Who’s been stealing yours?
I don’t know. It was probably an English teacher.
That’s silly, and it’s just one more obsolete rule that muddies the grammatical waters of the language. It makes sense to say that somebody’s shampoo is the shampoo belonging to somebody, so why not say who’s shampoo is the shampoo belonging to who?**
Let’s just ditch whose. No one’ll miss it. In fact, a whole lot of people probably never knew it existed in the first place.
Who’s minds have I changed? And who’s with me?
*None that I can think of. Feel free to enlighten me. And keep in mind that any examples would likely be just as ambiguous with any indefinite pronoun, and your panties aren’t in a twist over those potential ambiguities, are they?
**I know it’s technically to whom, but that’s another obsolete word…don’t get me started.