On the singular vs plural aspects of "who"



In a question like this one, for example,

Who have/has come?

Is the word "who" singular or plural? Or is it both plural and singular?

I have heard it’s plural. Please correct me if I am wrong.


Posted 2014-05-07T15:09:54.417

Reputation: 195

put a question to a sentense Penguins live in Antarctic. who lives/live in Antarctic?penguins do. – None – 2016-03-22T20:50:11.937

@J.R. the very first search on OALD answering this very question is not basic? I was about to put this as 'off topic' but thought to let others vote. I repeat, OALD says *used in questions to ask about the name, identity, or function of one or more people* Ah, it's not basic, it's actually off topic! – Maulik V – 2016-03-23T04:53:38.313

@MaulikV - The fact that who can be used in both a singular or plural sense may be very basic. However, in the case of "Who is come?" vs. "Who have come?" I think that introduces a complexity, particularly when the number of people is not known. If I heard voices outside on my front step, would I say, "Who are knocking at my door?" Probably not; I'd probably say, "Who is knocking at my door?" even though I can tell it's more than one person. There are some interesting nuances here that I think could be of interest to a learner. – J.R. – 2016-03-23T12:31:36.163

It's just an example..by chance selected by the OP. The basic question seems to be what I thought at first! @J.R. Or else the title shouldn't have read 'Who-singular or plural' – Maulik V – 2016-03-25T05:01:12.747

@MaulikV - Yes, unfortunately many people post titles that don't do a good job of fully explaining their underlying question(s). I tend to try and look at the whole post, and not just the title. Maybe we could retitle this one to make it less off-topic? I'll give it a try. – J.R. – 2016-03-25T13:13:10.183



Who can be either an interrogative pronoun ("Who is that?") or a relative pronoun ("The man who sells fruit"). Neither interrogative pronouns (question words) nor relative pronouns (which/that/who and variations) are bound to grammatical number by themselves. The plurality is instead bound to the object in question.


"Who is that man?" - singular due to "man"

"Who are those people?" - plural due to "people"

"The man, who is sitting there,..." - again singular due to "man"

"The men, who are sitting there,..." - plural due to "men"


Posted 2014-05-07T15:09:54.417

Reputation: 444

The subject of "Who are those people" is "those people", not "who". So the use of the plural verb "are" doesn't count as evidence about the grammatical number of "who" in that sentence. – sumelic – 2018-06-11T22:50:58.453

3And, going back to the O.P.'s example: "This is the woman who has come all the way from Canada" vs. "These are the teammates who have come from Toledo". Also, I think that when the number is unknown, we usually go with the singular by default: "Hello? Who dares to knock on the king's door so late at night?" – J.R. – 2014-05-07T16:08:27.517


There are two possibilities for 'Who' as an interrogative pronoun: it can ask about the subject or the object of the sentence.

  1. Asking about the subject:

    Use third-person (singular) form of verb after 'who' even if you know the answer must be plural.

    Who has a pen today?

    Who is outside now?

    According to Michael Swan "Practical English usage, Oxford 1995" when 'who' and 'what' are used to ask for the subject of a clause (as in this case), they most often have singular verbs, even if the question expects a plural answer.

    The girls are playing outside. → Who is playing outside?

  2. Asking about the Object:

    Here you simply make your verb agree with the subject. Actually in this case the formula used to make an information question is exactly like other wh-words like where and when.

    They meet him every Saturday.

    Who do they meet every Saturday?

    You see after 'who' we use 'do' here because 'they' is the subject here so the verb must agree with it.

    (Note that if you want to ask a question about the subject, you'd say, "who meets him every Saturday?")

About your question, based on what has been mentioned, "who has come?" is the preferred choice.

Please note that I wrote just about 'who' as an interrogative pronoun and not as a relative one. 'Who' in a relative clause agrees with the noun it modifies. It can be plural or singular.


Posted 2014-05-07T15:09:54.417

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