Whom Abuse Is Rampant



Consider the humble pronoun. It seems that fewer and fewer Americans know when to say “she” or “he” or “me” instead of “her,” “him,” or “I.”

It used to be that little Gloria would run home and tell her mother, “Me ’n’ Annie saw a walrus!” Whereupon her mom would say, “ ‘Annie and I,’ dear.” Now, alas, Gloria’s mother thinks “me ’n’ Annie” is just fine.

So why is it that so many pronoun-challenged Americans are infatuated with whom? It’s a word that’s become exotic and mysterious, and people say it when they want to sound authoritative, because even if they’re misusing it, chances are their listeners won’t know.

Let’s get technical. The pronoun who is always subjective. Use who wherever you would use the subjective pronouns I, he, she, we, or they. It is correct to say Who wants to go? because we would say She wants to go or We want to go.

The pronoun whom is always an object. Use whom wherever you would use the objective pronouns me, him, her, us, or them. It is not correct to say Who did you choose? We would say Whom because you choose me or him or them.

A handy memory aid: who = he, whom = him.

Here is an all-too-common misuse of whom: He is a man whom I believe can do the job. The writer chose whom, thinking it was the object of believe. But look what happens when we rearrange the sentence: He is a man whom can do the job, I believe. Obviously, the proper word is who.

Compare that with He is a man who I admire. Because we would say I admire him, the sentence should read He is a man whom I admire.

The key to mastering whom comes down to knowing the difference between a subject and an object.

POP QUIZ

1. Who/whom do you think will win the prize?

2. Who/whom do you think you’ll vote for?

3. She is someone who/whom I always counted on.

4. She is someone who/whom I always said could be counted on.

5. Who/whom are you going to believe?

QUIZ ANSWERS

1. Who do you think will win the prize? (they will)

2. Whom do you think you’ll vote for? (for him)

3. She is someone whom I always counted on. (I counted on her)

4. She is someone who I always said could be counted on. (she could be counted on)

5. Whom are you going to believe? (you’re going to believe me)

Posted on Tuesday, September 10, 2013, at 12:32 pm

26 Comments on Whom Abuse Is Rampant

26 responses to “Whom Abuse Is Rampant”

  1. paul says:

    Which is correct to say: Who/Whom do you say that I am?

  2. Nick says:

    I hear this one all the time using ‘whom’. It sounds wrong, but it always confuses me: He (who/whom) has nothing is happiest.
    I think it should be ‘who’ because the question is: Who has nothing? A: He has nothing => Who. Am I correct? Thanks!

  3. Percy says:

    Which of these is correct:

    “For someone whom is so happy with himself…”

    “For someone who is so happy with himself…”

    I would have thought “who” would be correct, is that right?

  4. Bob Adams says:

    “Whom do men say that I am?” The scholars who compiled the Authorized Version (including the three Synoptic Gospels where this or a similar phrase appears) certainly knew their grammar. However, they were not limited by it, particularly when considering the sound of the spoken word. “Who do …” sounds a little raw. The accusative form might also have been used in deference to the Greek original (Tina …?) and the familiar Vulgate (Quem …?), both of which the writers had at hand and both of which texts might be more literally translated as “Whom do men say me to be?” This is an example in those classical languages of a grammatical construction called “indirect discourse” used instead of the more common English construction “Who do men say that I am?”

  5. Mike G. says:

    Is “whom” the correct choice in both sentences below? Using the “who/he,” “whom/him” trick, could you explain why? The second one is especially problematic.

    (1) “John is separated from his wife and two teenage sons, whom he blames for the split.”
    (He blames “him” for the split; hence, “whom,” I believe, is undoubtedly correct.)

    (2) “John is separated from his wife and two teenage sons, all of whom blame him for the split.”
    (This one is confusing when using the trick. “He blames him for the split,” so one would think, when employing the trick, that “who” is correct [“. . . all of who blame him for the split]. But “who,” in this context, certainly sounds incorrect to my ear. How do you explain that “whom” is, in fact, correct here using the “who/he,” “whom/him” trick?)

    (3) The line, whom all revered, was walked alone.
    (I believe this one should be “who,” not “whom.” Am I right?)

    • You can also think of your sentences in terms of subject (who) or object (whom).

      (1) “whom” is the object of “blames”: …whom he blames for the split.
      (2) “whom” is the object of “of” (“all” is the subject): …all of whom blame him for the split.
      (3) Who and whom are used for persons: The line, which all revered, was walked alone.

  6. Tinti says:

    Which of these is correct,
    “He whom always be the first person to know…were….”
    Or
    “He who always be the first person to know…were…”

  7. Nona Famous says:

    Did I hear Matt Damon use ‘whom’ as a subject of a verb in “Martian”?
    I only watched it once but I’m quite sure I heard it!

    What is going on?!!!
    Annie

  8. Lee says:

    Which of these is correct?
    “Joe is not happy with whom he is.”
    Or
    “Joe is not happy with who he is.”

    (Meaning that he is not happy with himself, not referring to another person).

    I think that “who” is correct because “who he is” is an independent clause and not the object of “with”. My grandma does not agree.

  9. Philip says:

    Dear GrammarBook,

    I’m having great difficulty with the following complex sentences (the first of which I heard recently on television) using ‘he/him’ and ‘who/whom’:

    1) I have spent some months bonding with he/him whom I thought to be my son. (I thought him to be my son.)

    Should it be ‘he’ or ‘him’? I thought the objective case was used after a preposition, or does that rule not apply here because ‘he’ is part of the subordinate/dependent clause, not the main one, and the whole subordinate clause is the indirect object.

    Also, is the usage of ‘whom’ in this sentence correct?

    2) I have spent some months bonding with he/him, who was my son’s friend.

    Should it be ‘he’ or ‘him’? I think ‘who’ should be used here because one would say ‘He was my son’s friend’, therefore ‘… who was my son’s friend’.

    3) I have spent some months bonding with he/him, who/whom I thought was my son. (I thought [that] he was my son.)

    Should it be ‘he’ or ‘him’, and ‘who’ or ‘whom’?

    I would have thought the answers were ‘… with he whom I thought …’, in which case the ‘who-he/whom-him’ aid would not apply here (as one wouldn’t say ‘I thought [that] him was my son’).

    Thank you.

    • 1) I have spent some months bonding with him whom I thought to be my son. (I thought him to be my son.) Only in rare and special cases will you find a sentence in which a subject pronoun (“with who”) could be correct after a preposition. That is why we have the phrase “OBJECT of a preposition.” Therefore:

      2) I have spent some months bonding with him, who was my son’s friend.

      3) I have spent some months bonding with him, who I thought was my son. (who was my son, I thought.)

      • Mark says:

        Hello. I’m a bit confused. Why did the first example take “Whom” yet the third example took “Who”, even though the structure is almost identical?
        Would it be that in the first example, the verb “Thought” was used a transitive verb, but in the third example it was intransitively?

  10. Mich says:

    I have a complicated grammar sentence from an ESL book.

    The book says:

    “Here is one thing you can easily do in your daily life to practice this: Throw a party for your friends and tell them to come as the person WHO/WHOM they want to be in 10 years.”

    I thought it should be “whom” because “the person” appears to be the object — the thing which “my friends” want to be. When I try to change it into a question, I have:
    “Who/whom does you friend want to be?”
    “My friend wants to be him.” “Him” is an object.

    Nobody seems to agree with me, and I can’t fully understand their explanation as to why it should be “who.” Does it have something to do with the verb “to be?”

    Thanks.

    • The answer is “who.” Formal English requires the following: “Who do you want to be?” “I want to be he.” The verb to be is a linking or copulative verb. Such verbs do not take objects.

  11. Mirkat says:

    It used to be that little Gloria would run home and tell her mother, “Me ’n’ Annie saw a walrus!” Whereupon her mom would say, “ ‘Annie and I,’ dear.” Now, alas, Gloria’s mother thinks “me ’n’ Annie” is just fine.

    Actually, in my experience, Gloria’s mother thinks that “Annie and I” is always correct, no matter where it falls in the sentence. Example: “Thank you for all the help you gave Annie and I.” And when she corrects Gloria, she won’t be able to explain why she’s making the correction (and the “correction” will not always be correct).

  12. Trish says:

    Pop quiz 5: Whom/Who are you going to believe?
    I agree the response would be ‘I am going to believe HIM’.
    But since elementary, we’ve been taught to use ‘Who’.
    ‘Whom’? Really?

  13. Tonya says:

    My perfect match will be a gentleman who everyone admires. (Who or Whom)?

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