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Who vs. Whom

Let’s crack the code for who and whom. It is easier than you might imagine. In addition, I will give you the technique for learning when to use whoever vs. whomever. The following are informal methods rather than rules; however, they really work!

Rule: Use who when you could replace it with he.

Example: Who/whom is standing by the gate?

We would say, “He is standing by the gate.” So who is correct.

Example: Gail wished she knew who/whom won.

Gail wished is a subject and verb pair (also called a clause). She knew is another subject and verb pair (clause). Who/whom won, the third clause, is the one we care about here. We would say, “He won.” So who is correct.

Rule:
Use whom when you could replace it with him.

Example: To who/whom am I speaking?

Let’s turn the question into a sentence to make it easier: I am speaking to who/whom. We would say, “I am speaking to him.” Therefore, whom is correct.

Example: Hank wanted to know who/whom they trusted.

Hank wanted to know is a clause. That leaves who/whom they trusted. Again, let’s turn the question into a sentence: Who/whom did they trust? We would say, “They trusted him.” Therefore, whom is correct.

Now, wouldn’t it be nice to know when to use whoever and whomever with confidence? Then see our grammar tips Whoever vs. Whomever and Whoever Would Use Whomever: Read On.

 

Pop Quiz

1. Who/Whom should I ask to the dance?
2. Cedric hasn’t decided who/whom should be appointed yet.
3. I’m looking for an assistant on who/whom I can depend.

 

Pop Quiz Answers

1. Whom should I ask to the dance?
2. Cedric hasn’t decided who should be appointed yet.
3. I’m looking for an assistant on whom I can depend.

Posted on Monday, May 1, 2006, at 3:46 pm


42 Comments on Who vs. Whom

42 Responses to “Who vs. Whom

  1. Eric Levy says:

    can you tell me which to use in the following sentence (who vs whom)?

    “Every Wednesday, Enid still brings soup to homeless people, including those (who, whom) she meets on the boardwalk.”

    Thanks.

    Eric

  2. Jane says:

    Use “whom” because you would say, “She meets HIM on the boardwalk.”

  3. Tina says:

    Can you tell me which to use in the following sentence?

    He interviewed several candidates who/whom he thought had the experience and qualifications he required.

    Thank you.

  4. Jane says:

    Here is how to break this sentence down:
    He interviewed several candidates.
    he thought
    ______ had the experience and qualifications
    he required

    The blank could be replaced by “he” so “who” is the answer.

  5. Tina says:

    Thank you!!

  6. ryan says:

    Someone asks, “To whom was she talking”?

    Response:

    1) I am to whom she was talking.
    2) I am whom she was talking to.
    3) She was talking to me.

    If 3 is the only answer, and wouldn’t 1 or 2 work?

  7. Emily says:

    I’m using the he/him substitution to try to explain who/whom to my English class, and I’m noping it will be helpful.

    I’m hitting a little trouble with a situation like: Who/whom is that present for? “Who is that present for” sounds much more natural, but the substitution would be “That present is for him.” I know that in the original question, the who/whom is technically the object of the preposition “for,” even though it’s at the end of the sentence (my research says that’s okay, I think), but “Whom is that present for” sounds really strange.

    • Jane says:

      The correct usage is “Whom is the present for?” Perhaps it would sound more natural to you if you simply reword the sentence. If the sentence read “That present is for whom?” it does not sound as awkward. The word “whom” is a commonly misused word, so it is not surprising that you consider it strange sounding.

  8. Lauret says:

    Having a real hard time with I vs me! I have a third grader and I was giving him the wrong answers!!! Yikes….Help

    • We think you’ll find that choosing between the subject pronoun I and the object pronoun me will be much clearer once you know the rules. You can find the rules in the Pronouns section on our website. A previous newsletter on “I vs. Me” is in the Grammar Blog section. Also, you can test your understanding by taking a Free Online Quiz on pronouns.

  9. Mary says:

    Correct? or maybe I’m the one with a problem . . .

    Get broad multimodality perspectives and unique insights from a diverse team of respected editors and contributors–many of whom are new to this edition–affiliated with institutions across North America and internationally.

    Many thanks!

  10. Michael says:

    I saw a Bumper Sticker that did not appear to be correct. It was a dog paw that read “Who rescued who?” The intent is obvious. But if I reword the sentence, “His dog rescued him”, Who rescued whom appears more accurate. Am I correct in my thinking?

  11. Lia says:

    Which one is the correct form? It is a title of a book (not a question)

    “Whom is this book addressed to”
    “Who this book is addressed to”

    • In our blog “Who vs. Whom” the rule states, “Use whom when you could replace it with him.” You would say, “This book is addressed to him,” therefore, use the word whom. Even though you say that this is the title of a book, “Whom is this book addressed to?” is indeed a question, and I recommend the use of a question mark.
      Whom is this Book Addressed to? OR
      To Whom is this Book Addressed?

  12. Richard says:

    Jane I am confused please help:

    I read from different sources that in a clause, the subject is always before the verb, which is followed by an object.Passive and active voices has their subject and object switched around. EX: He (subject) ate a donut (object)VS. The donut (subject) was eaten by him (object).

    So following the logics above, why is “Who did you lend the book to” incorrect? WHO precedes you, and therefore should be the subject, while YOU is the object. Since the object YOU did the lending, this would be a passive voice?

    I know the answer is WHOM, but I am not seeing how this justify my theory. Is it flawed? Thanks

    • The subject is not always placed before the verb. In the sentence, “Whom did you lend the book to,” the subject is you and the object is book. Perhaps it is easier to see if you turn the sentence around to read “You did lend the book to whom?”

  13. jlu says:

    Hi there,

    help me with this please:

    I act the same regardless of who I am with

    OR

    I act the same regardless of whom I am with

  14. Tony G. says:

    Just read the following sentence:

    They will charge more depending on who they play.

    Should it not be ‘whom’?

  15. Amy says:

    I would welcome collaborations with faculty members, many of whom have expertise that would allow me to add exciting new dimensions to my projects.

    Microsoft grammar check tells me this should be “who” but it sounds wrong to me and your rule above about “many of whom” also suggests it should be whom. I can’t figure out how to apply the he/him rule.

  16. Mia S. says:

    I just took the grammar mastery test you have.
    And one thing bugs me.
    Question 21: Who are you voting for?
    You said the correct answer is Whom, because you would ask “Are you voting for him” and whom is for he/him.
    Which makes sense, only:
    There are female candidates. I would not ask “Are you voting for him” if I were referring to a female candidate.
    So wouldn’t it be better to update it to WHO are you voting for? Because who is gender neutral? Just a thought.

    • The words who and whom are completely gender neutral. In our book and on our website we teach the he/him rule simply because it is easy to correlate to who/whom: He = who and him = whom (both the words him and whom end with the letter m). We could just as well teach it as the she/her rule where she = who and her = whom, but that’s harder to remember.

      Thus, the answer will always be Whom are you voting for? This is gender neutral because it correlates either to Are you voting for him or to Are you voting for her?

  17. Vivienne Wall says:

    Could you kindly rule on the following sentence?

    “Who do you want to be the next Prime Minister?”

    The answer could be “I want him to be the next Prime Minister”, but to start the question with “Whom” seems wrong. Does it make a difference that the verb “to be” is in the question?

    Many thanks.

    • It is not wrong to start a question with the word whom. The phrase “to be” does make a difference. The following are both correct:
      “Whom do you want to be the next prime minister?” (I want him to be the next prime minister.)

      “Who do you hope is the next prime minister?” (I hope he is the next prime minister.)

  18. Tim K. says:

    I have a question that’s been confusing and plaguing me for some time. It has to do with the proper times to use “whom”. Of course, when the person is the obvious object of a preposition, I have no problem. But what to do when a subject-verb phrase is the object? For instance: “I am (who/whom) I am.” Which should it be, in that case. Here’s another: “I saw (who/whom) took the saw.” Or, “I remembered (who/whom) was twelve at that time.” These aren’t good examples (I can’t think of just the right ones at the moment) but perhaps you get the gist of the question.

    Thanks so much for any light you can shine!

    • The answer to all three of your who-whom questions is “who.” In the first one, “am” is a form of the verb “to be,” which never takes an object (I am he, If he were who I think he is).

      Your second and third examples are more problematic, because “saw” and “remembered” are transitive verbs that take objects in those two sentences. However, the objects in both cases are noun clauses, and a noun clause must stay grammatically true to itself whether or not it’s an object. Therefore, “who took the saw” and “who was twelve” are the right answers.

  19. John Duval says:

    Hi Jane, your answer on “Hank wanted to know who/whom they trusted” is actually incorrect: “who” is the correct answer.

    The deep structure is:

    “Hank wanted to know WHO the person whom they trusted WAS”,

    where “whom” is a relative pronoun, not an interrogative, and where it must therefore refer to a nominal (I have used “person”).

  20. John Duval says:

    Your analysis is too simplistic.

    You can’t just divide the sentence (as you have) into 2 discrete clauses:

    “Hank wanted to know”
    “whom they trusted”

    because you are then (with regard to your intended semantic) necessarily using “know” intransitively, and accordingly have no way to actually link the two clauses together to form a sentence.

    Commensurately, your idea produces an ambiguity: “know” in your sentence can currently be rendered either as it is in “I knew him personally” (where “know” is transitive and “him” object), or as it is in “I knew who it was”, the latter being your intent and where “who it was” is merely cognate with “know”.

    In German, these two alternatives are actually catered for by 2 different verbs, “kennen” and “wissen” (respectively), but in English we only have one “know”. You have introduced an ambiguity between what would be the German equivalents, and your idea accordingly fails.

    What I have said is correct: it is who, not whom. I have not rewritten the sentence, but have shown the deep structure of what it is we are actually saying. I suggest you do a bit more reading in linguistics: language issues are rarely analysed simply.

    • We beg to differ. We think our “simplistic” analysis is correct and easy for our readers to understand. Our website does not focus on linguistics, and we try to simplify and explain the rules of English so that students and non-English speakers can comprehend them. On the other hand, your explanation might be too confusing and difficult to comprehend for some of our readers who are struggling with the English language.

  21. KMRDK says:

    I was reading my English text book about forming questions and I noticed the following example sentence: “Who are they looking for?”
    Isn’t it has to be “Whom are they looking for?” if the answer will be “They are looking for HIM/HER?”?

  22. rstuv says:

    Hi there,
    I’ve read through these rules, but am still having trouble when the who/whom comes as the last word in a sentence.
    “Someone called it ‘bad’, but they did not know who/whom.”
    My gut thinks it would be whom, but I think the rules are saying it would be who, but the syntax makes it confusing. Could you weight in?
    Thank you so much.

  23. LShopeful13 says:

    Hello,

    I believe I am over analyzing this sentence, but I could use some help as to whether to use “who” or “whom”. The sentence is as follows:

    Whether this was because of my incredible reasoning skills or because I could fight, and win, an argument with a door, depends on who/whom is asked.

    Your assistance would be very much appreciated. Thank you in advance.

    Grammar Nazi Off Her Game

  24. Chi says:

    Hi…I have applied your rule every where and it works wonders but this one has stumped me…

    The person (who/whom) I am referring to is not present in the audience.

    Now, I can either ask “whom am I referring to? (since the answer is him). But then I can also ask, “who is not present in the audience” (since the answer is ‘he is not present’)

    Which one is correct? Which part of the sentence should I ask a question of?

    Thanks a lot.

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