Who vs. Whom



Let’s crack the code for who and whom. It is easier than you might imagine. 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? We’ll give you the technique for learning how to use that pair in two weeks.

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 Wednesday, October 25, 2017, at 3:36 pm

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5 Comments on Who vs. Whom

5 responses to “Who vs. Whom

  1. Julian C. says:

    Brilliant! The best explanation I’ve ever seen, really helpful.

  2. Barbara T. says:

    Thank you for sending these messages. I love the information you share on grammar. Perhaps you could highlight the upcoming lesson on whoever vs. whomever in this manner?
    Rule: Use whoever when you could replace it with her.

    • We do try to be evenhanded. What we are trying to accomplish in this case, however, is to give our readers an easy-to-remember mnemonic. The he/him parallel with who/whom makes it easy because of the letter m at the end of the object case for both words.

      The same just isn’t true of she/her. Unfortunately, your method confused even you, because it would read:

      Rule: Use whoever when you could replace it with she!

      At any rate, we do appreciate hearing from you, and thank you for the kind words.

  3. Steph says:

    What about a phrase like this:

    “I can imagine who(m) three the people at the party were, but who(m) were the other five?”

    Can someone help me parse out the subject-verb pair clauses and from there break this down?

    Thanks!

    • The first independent clause contains a relative clause (“who…were…”) operating as the sentence object, so we would not use “whom” because “who” is the subject of the relative clause. “Who” also is the sentence subject of the second independent clause joined to the first by the coordinating conjunction “but.”

      I can imagine (who [relative clause subject] three of the people at the party were [relative clause verb]), but who (subject of independent clause) were the other five?

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