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  • who/whom

    These two words must be a couple of the trickiest ones in the English language. It seems as if no speakers, and only some writers, know how to use who and whom correctly. In fact, whom doesn’t even exist in some people’s vocabularies, and it appears to be a word that is quickly disappearing from the English language.

    Who is used as the subject of the clause it introduces.
    Whom is used as the object of a preposition, as a direct object, or as an indirect object.

    A key to remembering which word to use is simply to substitute who or whom with a pronoun. If you can substitute he, she, we, or they in the clause, and it still sounds okay, then you know that who is the correct word to use. If, however, him, her, us, or them sounds more appropriate, then whom is the correct choice for the sentence.

    The following are some example sentences that illustrate how to correctly use who and whom.

    Example 1 (who): The woman who [not whom] is standing over there is my mother.

    Example 2 (whom): Whom are you going out with tonight? (Note that in formal writing, the sentence should be read: “With whom are you going out tonight?”)

    Example 3 (whom): The stranded motorist whom I helped was very grateful.

    If you substitute she for who in Example 1, it becomes obvious that who is the correct word: “…she [in place of who] is standing over there.” Now take a look at Example 3 above. Take the clause whom I helped and substitute him for whom. If you reverse the order of the words, the clause becomes I helped him. Him is in the place of whom. Remember that although this is a helpful way to distinguish between who and whom, you have to look at just the part of the sentence that begins with who or whom for this trick to work.

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    Posted by Rachel V. in Grammar

    28 Responses to “who/whom”

    Thank you for taking the time to add your thoughts to the discussion. I can't respond to every comment, but I read and appreciate them all.

    1. Sandy says:

      Is this correct?
      Happy birthday to a beautiful lady who I am honored and blessed to call mom.
      Thank you.

    2. Fosdick says:

      Is this a correct use of “whom”?

      Many men feel that they are wanted to keep the ‘programme machine’ going rather than for whom they are.

    3. Alexandra says:

      Hi! I have a question…’whom’ is also supposed to be used after a preposition, but with any preposition? I mean… I am a Spanish student of English and I am a bit confused with an exercise in which I have to put two sentences together:
      – Those teenagers are famous pop singers. You are looking at them.

      I guess there is more than one correct answer, one would be: Those teeenagers (who) you are looking at are famous pop singers. But… can I write something like: those teenagers AT WHOM you are looking are famous pop singers?
      Thanks :)

    4. MEG says:

      Far from dying out, the use of ‘whom’ is becoming more common. Unfortunately, it is more commonly being used by people who think its use makes them sound erudite; on the contrary it usually makes them sound anything but as they haven’t the faintest idea how to use it. I would prefer that it die out altogether than have to listen to it being abused by the ignorant.

    5. Gilian Joan says:

      Please help me, which of the two sentence is correct?

      1. Why am i afraid to tell you who am i?

      2. Why am i afraid to tell you who i am?

      please help urgent. thanks

    6. JJM says:

      “It seems as if no speakers, and only some writers, know how to use who and whom correctly. In fact, whom doesn’t even exist in some people’s vocabularies, and it appears to be a word that is quickly disappearing from the English language.”

      If “no speakers and only some writers” know how to use it, then the problem must be with those writers and not the speakers.

      VOX POPULI truly determines how language develops; “whom” is clearly on the wane in common usage.

      Get over it.

      • Myself says:

        That doesn’t make the general populace correct – in Australia, most people replace ‘I’ with ‘me’ when coupled with another pronoun, e.g. ‘Him and me went to the shops,’ and add an ‘s’ when referring to multiple people in the second person, e.g. ‘Yous went to the shops,’ ‘Her and me want to meet up with yous.’
        There is no need to change the English language to accommodate those who have no wish to learn it correctly.

    7. BobB says:

      I agree with the ‘only’ section. That drives me crazy.

      So as to the value of a comma, “My parents, Mother Theresa and the Pope agree that we should attend to our language.”

      If nothing is lost in the meaning, i.e., the person understands precisely the intention, the argument over who and whom is a waste of air. However, in a formal setting, it would behoove one to follow the dictates of proper language usage.

    8. marcie says:

      Which is the correct way of saying things?

      There are 500 graduating students.

      A. of whom, 300 are males and 200 are females.

      B. of which, 300 are males and 200 are females.

      • Rachel V. says:

        Marcie, I believe the sentence you asked about should read as follows:

        There are 500 graduating students, of whom, 300 are males and 200 are female.

        We’re talking about people, so whom would be the correct word of choice.

      • pratap says:

        a is correct answer. if u r referring to subject then use who and if u are referring to object then use whom with or without proper preposition.

    9. Sam Orchard says:

      Even after all of these years, I STILL get this one wrong all of the time. Maybe this will help me finally get it right :D

    10. Mr.RightUsage says:

      I agree with Warsaw on the preposition at the end of a sentence thing. I remember reading that some uptight grammarians around the turn of the century insisted on the eminently absurd rule based on the rules of Latin. I can’t remember their names or why Latin was such a big deal to them (since English is germanic with a Latin influence).

    11. Warsaw Will says:

      I teach English to foreigners and your ‘rules’ go contrary to every course book I have seen.

      Example 1 – OK, no problem.
      Example 2 – Use ‘whom’ after a preposition if you want to be very formal, yes, but when that preposition comes after the verb, use ‘who’.
      Example 3 – ‘whom I helped’ is a defining relative clause. The relative pronoun here is ‘who’ or ‘that’ or nothing. Many native speakers would simply say ‘The stranded motorist I helped …’.

      I can’t speak for other countries, but if you used these ‘rules’ in Britain, people would wonder what planet or century you had come from. Even something like ‘to whom should I make the cheque payable’ sounds incredibly old fashioned nowadays.

      @grammar freak. Churchill, who was a great lover of the English language, deliberately used this expression to show how ridiculous the ‘don’t end a sentence with a preposition’ rule is. Have you actually ever heard anyone say ‘About whom are you talking’? In real life, I mean?

      • Courtney says:

        That’s true. But this site doesn’t seem to be about “real life” since most people speaking English don’t use the correct rules all the time. See? I just started a sentence with the word “but” (a taboo in my English classes). I also put my comma OUTSIDE the quotation marks simply because I like the way it looks better than on the inside.

        The examples given here often do sound strange in the context of normal conversation, but they certainly don’t sound strange to an English teacher who’s grading a paper. Language is always evolving, and for most people “whom” is virtually extinct. However, it is not yet obsolete; and for those who wish to know the difference, the examples are still helpful… if a little awkward when put to use.
        (That was riddled with errors I’m sure, haha!)

        • Rachel V. says:

          Courtney, thanks for your comment. You are correct in that most of these errors (except for the ones on the Pronunciation page) do refer to written, as opposed to spoken, English. There is certainly more leeway in conversational English.

    12. betshy says:

      Great material! thanks :)

    13. pdgcss says:

      Regarding the preposition rule: British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill is supposed to have written, “This is the sort of English up with which I will not put.”

      • MEG says:

        Churchill was reputed to have said: This is the kind of arrant pedantry up with which I will not put.” In fact he didn’t say either.

    14. grammar freak says:

      I would like to emphasize a rule. One should not use a preposition at the end of a sentence.

      Incorrect:
      Who are you talking about?

      Correct:
      About whom are you talking?

      • Todd Beaucoudray says:

        That isn’t correct. It’s perfectly acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition when it’s necessary. In fact, it’s considered idiomatic in English.

        Where are you? is correct because at isn’t needed.

        What are you talking about? is perfectly acceptable. I’ve never heard or read “About what are you talking?”

    15. Rachel V says:

      Caroline: It would be incorrect to say “them” if you were saying “them shoes”; in that case, the correction phrasing would be “those shoes” because “those” is serving the function of a demonstrative adjective (this, that, these, those). But using “those” by itself doesn’t seem incorrect to me because it’s just a demonstrative pronoun.

      http://www.english-the-easy-way.com/Determiners/Demonstratives_That_This_Those_These.htm

    16. Caroline says:

      Do you have any hints about “those” vs “them”?

      If my children say, “I like them” it sounds wrong to me and I want to tell them that they should say, “I like those”. However, if you had a situation where nobody liked, say, a pair of shoes, you could end up saying, “You may not like them, but I like them”. In this case you wouldn’t say, “but I like those”.

      So… is it just that you use “those” when you are specifying which pair of shoes, and “them” otherwise?

    17. Caroline says:

      Great clarification of who and whom, thanks.

    18. jackie gear says:

      Is it correct or incorrect to say:-

      ‘she did it’. If the person is present, or is it more correct and polite to say ‘ Liz dit it’ etc.

      • jalena says:

        Both of them are acceptable when the subject is there. It is more efficent if the you were to state the subject’s name instead of a pronoun as its replacement.