Most English speakers do not know the difference between who and whom. It is a mistake that is not even noticed most of the time because it is so common, but it is still important to know the differences.
Who and Whom as Relative Pronouns
Who and whom are both used as relative pronouns and are easily confused. Relative pronouns relate to a previously mentioned noun to which we are giving more information and are used to link one clause to another. A clause is a group of related words containing a subject and a verb. Examples of who and whom used as relative pronouns follow:
- The office was disrupted by the man, whom many consider to be rude.
- The man who ran through the office was very rude.
As you can see, both examples are used to link one clause to another.
Consider the Subject Versus the Object for Who and Whom
Are you referring to someone who is doing something (who), or are you referring to someone who is having something done to them (whom)?
Who as a Subjective Pronoun
Who is used to provide more information about a person or people mentioned previously in a sentence. It is also a subjective pronoun. A subjective pronoun is a pronoun (I, me, he, she, etc.) that is used as the subject of the sentence. Who replaces the subject of the sentence.
Examples of using who as a subjective pronoun follows.
- Who handed it to him?
- Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.
- Who let the dogs out?
- Joelle is the girl who got the job.
- I don’t know who won the challenge.
Whenever “I”, “she” or “he” feels right, who can be used. Examples follow:
- Jake built an exquisite home for his family.
- He is the person who built an exquisite home for his family.
This same concept can be used when asking questions. Who should be used when asking which person or people did something.
- Who is the woman sleeping?
- She is the woman sleeping.
Whom as an Objective Pronoun
Whom is an objective pronoun that is used for formal English. It is used as the object of a verb or preposition. Whom should replace the object of the sentence. Consider who is having something done to them when finding the object of the sentence. The object is the person, place, or thing that something is being done to.
Examples of “whom” in a sentence:
- He saw the faces of those whom he loved at his birthday celebration.
- She saw a lady whom she presumed worked at the store, and she asked her a question.
- Here dwells an old woman with whom I would like to converse.
- Whom do you think we should support in the upcoming Presidential election?
- The man whom you met on Saturday is coming to dinner.
Who and Whom in Formal and Informal Settings
In informal writing and speech who is used most of the time. Usually people say “Who do you want to speak to?” Even though whom may sound dated, it is still the technically correct word in many situations. “To whom do you wish to speak?”
Following is an example of a formal and informal sentence.
- Formal: To whom did you give it?
- Informal: Who did you give it to?
Even though contemporary usage is typically used when speaking, the traditional usage is still used in formal writing. For example, the following greeting is still quite common in formal letters:
- To whom it may concern
Helpful Tips for Using Who and Whom
Use the “he/him” or “she/her” rule. If it is either “he” or “she,” then it should be who. If it is “him” or “her,” then whom should be used.
Who and Whom Summary
Who and whom each have a specific role in a sentence, so it is necessary to understand their functions and use them correctly. While using who rather than whom might not be as obvious, using whom incorrectly may give the impression a person is trying to sound more educated than they really are. If the individual uses whom incorrectly, then they do quite the opposite of coming across as an educated individual. Therefore, it is crucial to learn the differences, practice them, and use them confidently.
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