The Grammarphobia Blog

Who’s vs. who’s

Q: I discovered this book description on Amazon: “So if you’re a .NET developer who’s mired in the trenches and yearning for a better way, this book is most definitely for you.” Is this use of “who’s” to mean “who has mired” and “who is yearning” acceptable?

A: The contraction “who’s” is a shortened form of either “who is” or “who has.” But in your example, it doesn’t mean both. It means only “who is.”

Here’s a stretched-out version of the sentence: “So if you’re a .NET developer who is mired in the trenches and who is yearning for a better way, this book is most definitely for you.”

One “who’s” can apply to two or more parts of a sentence, but the contracted verb cannot be both “has” and “is” at the same time. It must mean one or the other.

Generally, the writer depends on the context to make the meaning clear. In cases where there’s ambiguity, the writer should avoid the contraction.

We don’t find the Amazon.com sentence ambiguous, and we’re surprised that you do. It seems obvious to us that “who’s” stands for “who is” in both key parts: “who is mired in the trenches” and “who is yearning for a better way.”

On the other hand, if “mired” were used as a verb—as in “who has mired himself in the trenches”—then “who’s” here would be a contraction for “who has.”

In that case, the verb “has” could not extend automatically to what follows the conjunction. So “is” would have to be inserted after the conjunction (“and is yearning …”).

The passage would then read: “So if you’re a .NET developer who’s [or “who has”] mired himself in the trenches and is yearning for a better way, this book is most definitely for you.” 

It might be more graceful, though, to drop the “who” business entirely: “So if you’re a .NET developer mired in the trenches and yearning for a better way, this book is most definitely for you.” 

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