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I can never figure out whether I should use who and whom. Most people use who for both colloquially, but that’s not correct.

What’s the rule for using who and whom correctly?

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Whether to use 'whom' is subjective. – Colonel Panic Mar 11 '13 at 15:49
One need never use whom, and if one is even a little bit dubious about a situation, one should certainly not use whom there. That's the rule. The simple rule. If you insist on zombie rules, be aware you're late to the game, and there are lots more zombie rules out there already. Whom has kicked the bucket, shuffled off this mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisible. This is an ex-pronoun. Let it lie in peace. – John Lawler Sep 1 '14 at 19:31
@JohnLawler There were some policemen, several of who were armed? This seems to be a situation in which whom is usually still required, eg when it's the object of a preposition. – Araucaria Oct 10 '14 at 9:38
You can construct situations where it's required, but they're never obligatory. If you Pied Pipe the preposition, then, yes, in that case, whom is required, because it's the object of a preposition. But that's the only situation and it's easily avoided: There were some policemen; several of them were armed. – John Lawler Oct 10 '14 at 15:26
@Araucaria - I agree with your assessment for this situation. John Lawler's workaround is a) an unnecessary contrivance, apparently born purely out of his hatred for 'whom'; and b) rather inelegant. To me, There were some policemen, of which several were armed seems stylistically better. – Erik Kowal Dec 15 '14 at 2:50
up vote 109 down vote accepted

The easy way to tell which is technically correct is to substitute he and him for who and whom, then rearrange the word order to see which sounds right.

“Who were you speaking to?” becomes “You were speaking to he” — which is clearly incorrect.

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+1 - the fact that "him" and "whom" both end in an "m" makes this easy to remember. – Matt Hamilton Aug 5 '10 at 22:21
"they"/"them" can be used in place of "he"/"him" for this test as well. – Isaac Aug 6 '10 at 0:50
These sorts of tests work because "who" is for subjects and "whom" is for objects. – Pops Aug 6 '10 at 19:08
learn a highly inflected language like German or Russian which will make the English who/whom issue trivially easy – Edward Tanguay Aug 7 '10 at 13:22
@Edward:... though learning German or Russian in order to solve this particular problem is not exactly trivial. :-) – Steve Melnikoff Aug 26 '10 at 12:13

INTERROGATIVE PRONOUN WHO : In fact, if the use of who/whom seems now rather clear we still have to explain this use of the who object when it starts a question ; ie. the who which is here for whom is not subject... -a) But first aid : there is no who instead of a logical whom (object) directly after a preposition. "To who do you write ?" NIET ! This is easy OK. But what about : "For you do you care ?" To be honest, I'm sure we all used at least once...But it's still NIET ! -b) The accusative form - whom - should be the valid one at least when you write your question. But if you do that in a brief, I'm not sure to say it in court ; unless when the speaker takes his time. -c) But if you rush the witness, or if you're familiar you want to be direct so you ask : "Who did you kill ?" This nominative is perfect like the accusative whom. And don't think "whom did you see ?" would be pendantic ! In short & direct construction of your question, the sharp style is either "Who(m) did they meet?" with a predilection for the nominative simple who. However, if your expression has to be blunted with final preposition, the accusative should prevail : "For whom is it ?" outperforms "Who is it for ?" --Well ! I guess we've have almost done, unless we need to see "who's who?" ; "Who'll marry who?" & "who said it must be crazy".

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I'm sorry, but the answer is written confusingly, it's too chatty and Niet?. And why have you posted two answers, couldn't you have edited your day-old answer? – Mari-Lou A Feb 20 at 17:12
NIET means NO in RUSSIAN, I thought it could be fun... Chatty... OK BUT 2 answers because here we have the new question of the who for a whom. – DAVE Feb 20 at 18:21

Who is subject of what you say; whom is object...

"Who is driving ? Adolf is !" "To whom are you talking while he's driving ? To Adolf !"

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Hello, DAVE. This doesn't add to previous answers, and in fact 'whom' here is more accurately the object of the preposition (rather than of 'what you say'). And 'Who did you speak to at the conference?' is idiomatic nowadays. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 19 at 15:32
Yes ! but I gave another illustration with both who & whom... But I don't think "who did you speak to" would be fine and that's why we have this kind of question above. "who did you speak to" is familiar ; you don't want to write it far away your fridge :) – DAVE Feb 19 at 16:06
I don't think I'd ever use 'Whom did you speak to?' It now sounds almost if not actually unnatural. 'To whom are you speaking?' sounds a little better. But people use 'Who did you speak to?' even when they don't take their fridge with them. // But I repeat: this answer adds nothing (other than 'I agree with ...') to previous ones; it should be given as a 'comment', if at all. It's in danger of being down- or close-voted. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 19 at 16:21
Sorry ! I don't know how to use this site yet... //Whatever, I don't use either "Whom did you speak to" but "With/to whom did you speak". However, "Who or whom did you marry ?" is fine because I guess a direct verb like to marry does not need a final "to". For, ex. "who did you kill ?" is right. I think it's only when we have a sharp direct expression we may use who + verb + subject, instead of a "whom". Other way, I feel useless to start on a direct mode with "who" to finish with words after the verb... In such case, then we should not start with a simple "who" which is not active subject. – DAVE Feb 19 at 17:05
You might be interested in these Google Ngrams. In raw Google searches, "who did you speak to" is almost ten times as popular as "to whom did you speak". – Edwin Ashworth Feb 19 at 19:47

"Who" and "whom" also happen to be relative pronouns. Relative pronouns link noun phrases (NP) to relative clauses (RC).

"Who" is the subject pronoun, and it has its object form "whom" and possessive form "whose". Who and whom refer to people only.

Last a half century or so "who" is more and more used for both positions: subject and object. Whom, on the other hand, is used as object or as the complement of preposition in formal contexts.

That is the repairmen who fixed your car. Your friend Alex and his wife Samantha, whom he courted for so long, are getting a divorce.

"Which" is another relative pronoun, but not used for persons. Even though I have seen several very good writers use and get away with it.

"Whose" is the easiest RP to use: can be used for people, animals, and things.

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Have a look at this:

1 the man + he robbed the bank > the man who robbed the bank

2 the man + we saw him yesterday > the man whom we saw yesterday

This is correct elevated style. "whom" tends to be replaced by "who" and can be omitted altogether.

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Who is used as the subject of a verb. It's a nominative pronoun. Example:

It was Ben who damaged the car.

While writing a sentence, first find the verb(s). In this sentence, the verbs are was and Ben. Now find the subject of each verb: Ben and who. Since who is a subject, it's correct.

Whom is used as the object of the verb/preposition. It is an objective pronoun. Example:

You asked whom to wash the car?

In this case, the verb is asked. The object of the verb is whom. Therefore it is correct.

There is another way for this rule. Follow this link:

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up vote 121 down vote

Short answer: When in doubt, use who. It's disconcerting to hear whom where who is expected, but the usage of who in situations where previously whom was standard has been increasing, especially in spoken usage.

Longer answer: The traditional rule is that whom was to be used in the "objective case". What this means in practice (it's even controversial whether English has cases), is that you try to answer the question: if the answer is he, she, they, I, we, etc., you use who. If the answer is him, her, them, me, us, etc., you use whom.


  • "The man who spoke yesterday…", not "the man whom spoke…" ("He spoke" is correct; "Him spoke" is not.)

  • "Whom did you see?", not "Who did you see?" ("I saw him", not "I saw he".) The latter is frequently common these days, though.

The Language Log posts (1, 2, 3) linked in another answer, as well as William Safire quoted on the Wikipedia page, recommend avoiding whom or recasting your sentence if it seems necessary.

Someone using whom in place of who is likely to be interpreted as a hypercorrection from linguistic insecurity (and Geoff Pullum at the Language Log agrees), while using who in place of whom is, at worst, being too colloquial (and at best, being hip and cool!). Summary: it's good to know which is which and use them correctly, but when in doubt, use who.

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+1. Great answer, and much more useful than the currently top-voted, accepted one. Just stating the traditional grammar rule is far less interesting than explaining how the language is nowadays used and what is considered correct and "natural". – Jonik Aug 9 '10 at 12:46
+1 (thanks to @RiMMER's bounty) This is my favorite answer here. – Daniel Oct 27 '11 at 0:59
Thanks for participating, guys! I've awarded this answer the bounty! – RiMMER Nov 1 '11 at 21:29
It's worth pointing out that it's always safe to use whom immediately following a preposition. E.g.: "There were 5 candidates, 3 of whom have dropped out." sounds natural to me (who broadly prefers who), whereas of who sounds odd. – Mechanical snail Jul 25 '12 at 1:11
@Mechanicalsnail, is that just based on what "sounds natural" or is that an actual grammar rule? Because this is what brought me to this question. "I work with people, many of who(m) use this." "Who" seems to be the correct usage here according to the rules described in these answers, but you are correct that "whom" sounds more natural. But sounding natural and being correct aren't always the same. – Jeff Lockhart May 9 '13 at 19:56

Basically, you use who if it's the subject or another name for it and whom if it's not.

Who is that?

Who is the subject.

It will go to whomever wins.

Whomever is the object of the preposition to here, not the subject.

Bob is who we were thinking about before.

Since Bob is the subject and who is referring to Bob, then it's who.

You meant whom?

Whom is the direct object here, so still not the subject.

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Shouldn't the 3rd example be "whom"? The sentence can be divided into "Bob is." and "We were thinking about Bob before." In the combined compound sentence version, "whom" is "Bob" as the object of the second sentence. – Jeff Lockhart May 9 '13 at 20:12
@JeffLockhart: I don't think so. As I understand it, "who" is another name for "Bob" because "is" is a linking verb renaming "Bob" with "who". – Ullallulloo May 9 '13 at 20:31
So what's the object of the sentence "We were thinking about ____ before"? – Jeff Lockhart May 9 '13 at 20:45
@JeffLockhart: I think that's "who" too, but it's still "who" because of the linking verb. grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/who-versus-whom-advanced.aspx – Ullallulloo May 9 '13 at 20:58
The third example, in addition to the explanation provided here in the comments, is wrong. The pronoun in this sentence acts as the object of the relative clause, "whom we were thinking about." @Ullallulloo is confused by the link he/she posted because it's referring to instances in which the pronoun ends up acting, e.g., "It was Bob who called Jodie." The third example above is akin to "It was Bob whom Jodie called." Always choose the pronoun that matches what's happening in the relative clause. "Bob is whom we thought about," or "Bob is who thought about us." – nomad Jun 23 '15 at 20:57

"Whom remains in significant use following a preposition" but use in objective case is moribund. The Wikipedia article on "who" has a detailed explanation.

The death of "whom" has been tracked on Language Log over the years. For example, here and here.

More examples:

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All posts that link Language Log get an automatic +1. – JSBձոգչ Aug 5 '10 at 21:19
@JSBձոգչ, What's with "Language Log"? Is it even authoritative? – Pacerier Jun 26 '14 at 19:57
Nothing is authoritative. But Language Log is produced by respected academic linguists. – Colin Fine Sep 24 '14 at 18:22

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