Who or whom? The question trips up even grammar-lovers. And in many circles, whom is becoming obsolete, which may sadden grammar purists.
Although who and whom are similar, each serves a distinct purpose. In order to understand how to use these pronouns correctly, you’ll have to refresh yourself on sentence structure.
Once you’ve got this down and compared several examples, you’ll be able to remember how to use who and whom quite easily.
Parts of a sentence: a quick refresher
The basic parts of a sentence are the subject and the predicate. The predicate must include a verb but may also include an object.
The subject is the person or thing that acts. The verb describes the action. The object is the person or thing that’s acted upon by a verb or preposition.
Clearly, sentences can get far more complicated than this. But this is the basic structure of a sentence.
In English, the standard order of a declarative sentence, or statement, is subject—verb—object. For example:
- Tyrone bought the pizza.
Who vs Whom
|Who is helping whom?|
|Share / Tweet / Pin Me!|
Many English speakers do not know the difference between who and whom. In some places, it hardly matters, because using who when you should use whom is so common that it’s not even considered much of a mistake. But for those who want to know the difference between who and whom, here is an explanation.
Who is an interrogative pronoun and is used in place of the subject of a question.
- Who is going?
- Who are you?
- Is this who told you?
Who can also be used in statements, in place of the subject of a clause.
- This is who warned me.
- Jack is the one who wants to go.
- Anyone who knows the truth should tell us.
Whom is also an interrogative pronoun, but it is used in place of the object of a question.
- Whom is this story about?
- With whom are you going?
- Whom did they tell?
And whom can be used in statements, in place of the object of a clause.
This is the man whom I told you about.
John is the man whom you met at dinner last week.
Whom is the correct choice after a preposition.
The students, one of whom is graduating this year, failed the test.
Lisa is the girl with whom I’m driving to Maine.
The Bottom Line
The difference between who and whom is exactly the same as the difference between I and me, he and him, she and her, etc. Who
Who vs. Whom: A Simple Way to Determine Which Word to Use
Written by Scribendi
When it comes to misunderstood words, the award for Most Confusing Pronouns definitely goes to who vs. whom.
Although they are the bane of both native and non-native English writers who believe that whom is simply an archaic and out-of-fashion form of who, both words do have their grammatically correct place in the English language.
The Quick Answer: When to Use Who and Whom
A quick way to decide between who vs. whom is to learn the following rule:
If a question can be answered with him, the pronoun whom is correct—just remember that both words end with an -m!
- To whom are you singing?
- I'm singing to him.
If the question can be answered with he, the pronoun who is correct—here, remember that both these words end with a vowel.
- Who went to the dog park?
- He went to the dog park.
“But what if a woman is performing an action?” you ask.
First, way to be vigilant about calling out gender inequality.
Second, no need to worry! This mnemonic device simply utilizes the male pronouns him and he to help you determine whether to use who vs. whom. Once you know which word to use in the question, you can substitute the appropriate pronoun in the answer.
A Closer Look: The Difference between Who and Whom
1. When to Use Who
To understand the difference between who and whom, you must first understand the difference between the subject and object of a sentence. The subject is the person a sentence is about or the person completing an action. When you refer to the subject of a sentence, use the pronoun who. Here are some examples:
- Who is going to the cottage with us?
- Who is the best wizard at Hogwarts?
- Who brought the puppy to work?
In these sentences, who is the subject, because who is completing the actions (i.e., going to the cottage, being the best wizard, and bringing the puppy). Any person's name could be filled in here (e.g., Daphne is going to the cottage, or Kevin is the best wizard), and this person is the sentence's subject, making who the appropriate interrogative pronoun to use in this context.
2. When to Use Whom
Meanwhile, the object of a sentence is the person to whom the actions of the verb are being done (or, to put it another way, the person receiving the actions of the verb):
- Whom did she invite?
- Whom do you love?
- Whom are you going to beat in the dance-off?
In this context, whom can be substituted with the person receiving the action (e.g., she invited Joey to the party, or I love my mom).
Occasionally, the prepositions for, to, by, with, and about may need to be used with whom to ensure the sentence makes sense:
- With whom are you going to the pub?
- For whom are you making these cupcakes?
- This was painted by whom?
Just remember our quick tip, and you'll never have trouble deciding between who vs. whom again. Cement your knowledge with our article on pronouns, and if you're curious to learn more grammar tricks, browse the articles in our resources section.
To help you move forward with confidence, you could also consider asking one of our professional editors or proofreaders to review your writing. They've helped thousands of people ensure that their writing is error free.
Image Source: Andy Chilton/Stocksnap.io
Perfect your writing with professional editing
Scribendi's in-house editors work with writers from all over the globe to perfect their writing. They know that no piece of writing is complete without a professional edit, and they love to see a good piece of writing turn into a great one after the editing process. Scribendi's in-house editors are unrivaled in both experience and education, having collectively edited millions of words and obtained nearly 20 degrees collectively. They love consuming caffeinated beverages, reading books of various genres, and relaxing in quiet, dimly lit spaces.
How to remember who vs. whom
- In the nearly nine years we have been writing this column, we have never explicitly discussed the difference between “who” and “whom.”
- One reason is that few people care anymore.
- They haven’t cared for some time. As our predecessor, Evan Jenkins, wrote of “whom” in 1999:
A lot of smart people hate the word. It can sound stuffy, and more importantly, it’s very easy to get wrong. The great New York Times editor and language authority Theodore M.
Bernstein, who almost certainly never got it wrong, nonetheless campaigned to “Doom Whom” (except after prepositions).
Nonetheless, Jenkins wrote, “For anything approaching formal writing, ‘whom’ clearly will be with us for a good while longer.”
The end may be closer than we think. At a recent conference of college media advisers and their students, few that we questioned could correctly cite passages where “whom” had been used correctly or where “who” had been used incorrectly.
“Does anyone even bother?” one adviser remarked. “It’s hard enough working on the ‘me/I’ problem.”
RELATED: Headlines editors probably wish they could take back
Indeed, in a quiz given at that conference, two sentences were presented:
“Michael, Tania, Danisha and (I, me) are going to the movies.”
“(I, Me) and Danisha will be bringing the snacks.”
Most students correctly selected “I” in the first example. But most selected “me” in the second, when “I” is correct.
We didn’t ask about “who” or “whom” on the quiz because we know many people could care less. (“Could care less” is another one Evan Jenkins wrote about. It, too, has about reached its expiration date.) That college journalists and their advisers are not worried provides added evidence that the “who/whom” distinction is fading fast.
“Who” is a subject. “Whom” is an object. But in our fast-paced world, there often is not enough time to figure out whether something is a subject or an object, especially if you forgot how to do that.
We often advocate a sort of test, where you flip the sentence around to determine whether you would use “he” or “him” in its place. If you would use “he,” it’s “who”; if “him,” then “whom.
” Sexist though it is, it often works.
Take, for example, the common police story. “Police described the suspect as armed and dangerous” is pretty straightforward. But take the “armed and dangerous” phrase and put it elsewhere in the sentence, and confusion can arise. “The suspect, who/whom
Who or Whom: Which is Correct in English Grammar
Choosing between who and whom, either as a relative pronoun or question word, can be tricky for English language learners and native speakers of English alike.
The quick test in choosing between who and whom is to substitute he or him. If he sounds better, who is correct; if him sounds right, whom is correct. That’s because as a pronoun whom is used to represent the object of either a verb or a preposition, while who represents the subject of a verb.
He is the consultant whom we contacted for advice. (We contacted him.)
To whom was the letter addressed? (The letter was addressed to him.)
He is the consultant who can answer your question. (He can answer your question.)
Increasingly, native speakers of English are adopting who as the preferred pronoun in informal conversation, even when whom, not who, is correct. This means that whom, when correctly used as an object pronoun, can sound more formal.
In the two examples above, the formality can be toned down by omitting the pronoun in the first, and using the more casual who in the second:
He is the consultant we contacted for advice.
Who was the letter addressed to?
Who did you go to the movies with? is technically incorrect but very common, even for speakers who are well aware of the mistake.
With whom did you go to the movies? is correct but in an informal conversation can stand out as having a bit more formal tone.
The he/him test works well unless you’re confronted with a choice between whoever and whomever as in this sentence:
You can just talk with whoever/whomever answers the phone.
Even native English speakers get confused by this, because our instinct tells us that whom, not who, should follow the preposition with. However, there is another rule in English which dictates that every verb in a tense needs a subject. Here, whoever is the correct choice, since the verb answers needs a subject.
Striking a more formal, educated tone doesn’t have to be the only reason to use whom as the object pronoun. Sometimes it’s an elegant way to emphasize a distinction between subject and object. If you see someone walking a dog, and the dog is so big and strong that it’s all its owner can do to keep up with it, you can ask, Who is walking whom?
Who and whom
“Who” and “whoever” are subjective pronouns; “whom” and “whomever” are in the objective case. That simply means that “who” (and the same for “whoever”) is always subject to a verb, and that “whom” (and the same for “whomever”) is always working as an object in a sentence.
As simple and important as that distinction is, many people have difficulty deciding on the proper usage of “who” and “whom” in sentences.
The two sentences below illustrate the easy usage in which “who” is clearly the subject and “whom” is clearly the object.
In such simple cases, virtually everyone can determine the proper choice:
Who is that masked man? (“Who” / subject [subjective case])
The men, four of whom are ill, were indicted for fraud. (“whom” / object [objective case])
When “who” is not the main subject of the sentence, however, many people become confused. They tinker and change who to “whom.”
- It was Thomas Jefferson, I think, who was the third president of the United States.
- Notice that “who,” not “whom,” is still the correct form as the subject of the clause that follows. The proper name, Thomas Jefferson, could be substituted for “who” to make a perfectly good sentence:
- Thomas Jefferson was the third president of the United States.
As a ready check in such sentences, simply substitute the personal pronoun “he/him” or “she/her” for “who/whom.” If he or she would be the correct form, the proper choice is who.” If “him” or “her” would be correct, use “whom.”
This technique of substituting a personal pronoun for the relative pronoun works nicely whenever you have difficulty deciding whether to use “who” or “whom,” assuming that you have no difficulty using the proper form of personal pronouns.
Even when the word order must be altered slightly, you can use the technique:
Mrs. Dimwit consulted an astrologer whom she met in Seattle. (She met him in Seattle.)
Jones is the man whom I went fishing with last spring. (I went fishing with him.)
Joyce is the girl who got the job. (She got the job.)
Whom can we turn to in a time of crisis? (Can we turn to her?)
The delegates differed as to who they thought might win. (Not whom. Here the entire clause is the object of the preposition. Substitution is particularly helpful in cases such as this. They thought he might win.)
- Who is that masked man? (subject)
- The men, four of whom are ill, were indicted for fraud. (object)
And, now, for a really tough test (or, at least, most people trip up on it):
- I decided to vote for whoever/whomever called me first.
- Give it to whoever/whomever deserves it.
It's “whoever” in both cases. Even though you can read the first sentence as “I decided to vote for him” (which would make it “whomever”), the entire clause “(he) called me first” is the object of the preposition “for.” So, it's “whoever.” It's the same for the second example: “…he deserves it” wins out.
Three “easy-to-use” rules so you'll always get it correct
Rule #1: Substitute “he/him” or “she/her”: If it's either “he” or “she,” then it's “who;” if it's “him” or “her,” then it's “whom.”
Rule #2: Every verb with a tense in a sentence must have a subject. And that word is always in the nominative case, so it's “who.” For example: In this sentence, “I decided to vote for whoever called me first”:
• “I” is the subject of “decided”
• “he” (whoever) is the subject of the verb “called.”
In the sentence, “Give it to whoever deserves it”:([You] give it to whoever deserves it.) • “he” (whoever) is the subject of the verb “deserves.”
This rule supersedes the first rule as it relates to “who” and “whom.”
Note: Related to this rule is one that says: The subject of a clause is always attached to that clause — no matter what. For example:
Ask whoever reads that book to answer the question.
- Break down the sentence thus:
(You) ask him (he reads that book) to answer the question.
- In the clause “he reads that book,” you cannot separate the subject “he” from the clause to which it is attached.
- If you remember these two rules — substitute “he/him” or “she/her,” and that every verb with a tense must have a subject — you should solve the “who/whom” quandary every time.
- If you apply those two rules and you're still not sure, apply the all-important Rule #3.
Who or Whom? Easy Ways to Remember
Deciding whether to use who or whom has plagued people for years. It's tough to know which word is correct. Is it, “Whom shall I save?” or, “Who shall I save?” They both kind of sound okay, don't they? Well, let's explore the depths of “who” or “whom” and look into some easy ways to remember, including tips and tricks to make it all stick.
First, it's important to note “who” and “whom” are both pronouns. That's right; the two words in question belong to the same “I-you-he-she-it-we-you-they” family. And, believe it or not, that's precisely what's going to help us break it all down and choose the correct word.
Next, it's also important to note “who” refers to a subject of a clause and “whom” refers to the object of a clause.
So, if you think in terms of people doing something then “who,” as the subject, is the person carrying out the action or doing something.
Conversely, “whom,” as the object, is the person receiving the action.
Knowing “who” is the subject of a clause while “whom” is the object of a clause is one thing. Seeing it in action will help this stick in your memory bank.
Sentences Using Who
Let's look at a few examples with “who.”
- Who handed it to her?
- His friend who lives in Austin came to visit.
- I wasn't the one who made him feel unwelcome.
- People who take time to be kind are rewarded for their good deeds.
- Couples who hold hands stay together longer.
Remember, “who” is the person doing the action. As the subject of a clause, “who” tends to come before the verb of the sentence.
Sentences With Whom
Now, let's take a look at where “whom” lands in the grand scheme of things.
- He is the one whom I love.
- Why are we running and from whom are we running?
- Those flowers came from whom?
- He is our savior whom we adore.
- Whom shall I call?
Mean Ol’ Schoolmarm – Who vs. Whom
The question of whether to use the pronoun “who” or “whom” is often a struggle. While there is a shortcut I learned in middle school, let’s take a look at the grammar rule first.
There are a few who say “whom” is an old school word that may nearly be shelved, but I still believe learning the grammar rules between “who” and “whom” is relevant, so here we go.
Subject or Object of the Verb?
When determining the use of “who” or “whom” you must determine the subject of a verb because “who” is always the subject of a verb and “whom” can be correctly used as the direct object or indirect object, but never the subject, of the verb.
Sentence’s Subject = The person/thing doing the action.
Sentence’s Direct Object = The direct recipient of an action. A direct object answers the question “What?”
Sentence’s Indirect Object = The indirect object is the recipient of the direct object. An indirect object answers the question “To whom?” or “For whom?”
- If you can determine the subject, direct and/or indirect object of a sentence it makes “who” vs. “whom” a straightforward task:
- Use “who” when referring to the subject of a sentence.
- Use “whom” when referring to the direct or indirect object of a sentence.
Examples using “Who”
- Forget the glasses, who styled your awesome hair?
- “Who” is the subject of the verb styled.
- She wondered who may have sent the flowers.
- “Who” is the subject of the verb sent.
Examples using “Whom”
Samantha is the momma whom I went running with this year.
Samantha is not the subject of the sentence, I am. Poor girl, I made her go running with me. It wasn’t pretty.
- They chose the woman whom they saw take the lead.
- The woman is the object they saw.
- Whom do you love?
“You” is the subject of the verb “love” in this sentence. The object of the sentence is the infamous “whom” the guy loves because it does NOT appear to be this girl.
Shortcut – Substitute “He/She” or “Him/Her”
Using the same sentences above, let’s check our work by seeing whether “he/she or him/her” applies. A visual clue that works is the “m” in HIM matches the “m” in WHOM; of course, you’ll also need to remember that him = her for some sentences to apply.
1. Forget the glasses, who styled your awesome hair?
Who styled his hair? He/She or Him/Her?
2. She wondered who may have sent the sunflowers.
Who sent the flowers? He/She or Him/Her?
3. Samantha is the momma whom I went running with this year.
Whom did I go running with this year? He/She or Him/Her?
4. They chose the woman whom they saw take the lead.
Whom did they choose? He/She or Him/Her?
5. Whom do you love?
Whom does he love? He/She or Him/Her?
The Difference Between Who vs Whom – Professional Writing
Oh, the debates over when to use who vs. whom in a sentence! The fist fights! The wars! Governments have toppled over less – and still, it remains a mystery.
Of course, I’m exaggerating for the fun of it, but many people really don’t know the proper usage of these two terms. “Whom” has always sounded more formal whereas “who” sounds more common, but that’s usually where it ends. So allow me to dispel the myths and get you up to speed.
Subjects and Objects: A Quick Review
First, understand that who and whom are both your garden variety pronouns. And because they are run-of-the-mill pronouns, they can function as the subject or object.
Whether you should use who or whom completely depends on whether you need a subject or an object pronoun. (The possessive pronoun doesn’t apply to who and whom.)
Subjective pronoun: The subject of the sentence.
- She went to the mall. (She caused the action.)
Object pronoun: The object of the sentence. This can be the direct object, the indirect object, or the object of the preposition.
- She hugged him. (Him is the direct object. She is the subject.)
- The teacher gave her a black belt. (Her is the indirect object. What did the teacher give? A black belt. To whom did the teacher give the black belt? Her. Get it?)
- They went after her. (After is the preposition and her is the object of that preposition.)
There is your pronoun refresher! If you want a really in-depth look at the cases of pronouns, take a look at our article, Three Cases of Pronouns.
Enough Grammar! Throw Some Hands!
So here’s what you’ve all been waiting for. The bottom line. The rule on who vs. whom. Drumroll, please:
- “Who” is used as a subjective pronoun, and
- “Whom” is used as an objective pronoun.
Sort of anticlimactic, no?
- Who/Whom decided to show up to the concert? → Who decided to show up to the concert?
In this case, we are looking for a subjective pronoun since whatever it is will be doing the action. Who is the subjective pronoun, so we use who.
- The concert was attended by who/whom? → The concert was attended by whom?
In this case, we need an objective pronoun. Therefore, we would use whom since whom is the objective pronoun.
When in Doubt, He or Him It Out
The difference between who vs. whom sounds pretty straightforward. No big mystery, right? However, it can be tricky determining which is which without remembering all that grammar. So here’s a shortcut for you: When in doubt, he or him it out.