If I knew Mike's (just an example) father is dead and Mike himself is dead already and suppose I don't know the name of his father. Which of the following form of question is more grammatically correct in English in the context mentioned above if I were to ask the name of his father for historical purposes (assume Mike was a very important figure):

1) Who was the father of Mike?

2) Who is the father of Mike?

When abbreviated both can be "Who's the father of Mike?", is this right?

1 Answer 1


In English, we usually talk about dead people in the past tense, so if you know his father is dead (it doesn't matter if Mike is dead, too), the most idiomatic way to ask this question is

Who was Mike's father?

As far as I know, "who's" is always a contraction of "who is" or "who has" but never of "who was," so I would not use that contraction, here.

  • Then accordingly, inside of an academic history class, should I say "what was the sources that say so?" or "what are the sources that say so?" ? which form is more correct?
    – Rextia
    May 3, 2018 at 3:38
  • assuming it's because the father died 1500 years ago.
    – Rextia
    May 3, 2018 at 3:40
  • I suppose that depends on what you mean by "sources." Assuming the source is an extant, written book, you should use the present tense: Which sources say so? If you want to know, more specifically, about who said so, and you think the person who said so is dead, then you'd use the past tense. I hope I'm understanding your question correctly. May 3, 2018 at 4:19

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