Who vs Whom: Keeping Tricky Words Straight

If you are getting confused between who vs whom, here is a guide that will help you keep these two words straight.

Who vs whom is a grammar question that can trip up many writers. These two interrogative pronouns have similar meanings, but the correct word choice will depend on the part of speech they are in the sentence.

Once you learn some basic tricks to keep them straight, you can present formal writing that is on par with some of the best grammarians, at least when it comes to tricky pronouns.

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Who vs Whom: The Correct Choice Depends on the Part of Speech

Who vs whom

Choosing correctly between who and whom comes down to determining the part of speech the word is in the sentence. One pronoun serves as the subject of the sentence, while the other is the objective form. 

Who: Nominative Pronoun

“Who” is the nominative pronoun of the two, which means it is the subjective case. This means that any time you are using it as the subject of the sentence, in other words, the word that is doing something in the sentence, it is the correct choice.

Here are some example sentences:

  • Who is going to the store?
  • The dog, who is in the back seat, is barking incessantly.

In addition, “who” can be the subject of a clause, even if the clause is in the middle of the sentence. Here are some examples:

  • He will tell us who is coming over after he gets the RSVPs.
  • She let us know who was absent when she substitute taught.

Whom: Objective Pronoun

Who vs whom
Sometimes this can get tricky because “whom” is an interrogative pronoun

“Whom,” on the other hand, is the objective case. This means it is used as an object of a sentence. There are several types of objects, including:

  • Direct object of a verb
  • Object of the preposition
  • Direct object

Here are some examples of this word used as the object of the verb or object of a preposition:

  • Can you tell me to whom the letter was intended?
  • The car is being driven by whom?

Sometimes this can get tricky because “whom” is an interrogative pronoun, so it can still come at the start of a sentence when the sentence is a question. For example:

  • Whom should I ask for permission to go to the concert?

Even though in spoken English, this question might start with “who,” it is not the subject of the sentence. If you rearrange it to say:

  • Should I ask him for permission to go to the concert?

The subject of the sentence, “I,” becomes more apparent. When phrasing questions like this, carefully think whether the first word is the subject or the object, and use who or whom appropriately.

A Trick to Tell the Difference

Because who and whom are used in questions, they get confusing. One way to tell the difference is to substitute with the words “he” or “him” when possible. If “him” is correct, use “whom,” but if “he” is correct, use “who.”

Here is an example:

  • Who/Whom drank my coffee? 

If you substitute “he/him,” the sentence clearly shows that “he” is the correct word. Thus, you would write:

  • Who drank my coffee?

Similarly, here is an example using the objective case:

  • Who/whom should I talk to about this violation?

If you rearrange this to be a statement and substitute “he/him,” it would read:

  • I should talk to him about the violation. 

Thus, “whom” is the correct usage:

  • Whom should I talk to about the violation?

A Final Word on Who vs Whom

In the English language, who and whom are sometimes confusing words. Because we often speak with incorrect grammar, it is easy to make mistakes when using these words. 

To make it easier to keep straight, substitute a non-interrogative pronoun, like he or him. If you use the subjective case, use “who.” If you use the objective case, use “whom.”

Remember that sometimes this will not sound natural because this is not the way we speak, but getting who vs whom usage right will make you a better writer.

FAQs about Who vs Whom

When to use whom or who?

Use whom when the pronoun is used in the objective case, and use who when the pronoun is in the subjective case. 

What is a who vs whom trick?

To remember which word to use when consider substituting the word “he” or “him.” Since “him” ends in “m” like whom, if it is the correct word, you will use whom. Since “he”ends in a vowel as “who” does, if it is the correct word, you will use “who.”

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