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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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2  
Whether to use 'whom' is subjective. –  Colonel Panic Mar 11 '13 at 15:49

5 Answers 5

up vote 74 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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28  
+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
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"they"/"them" can be used in place of "he"/"him" for this test as well. –  Isaac Aug 6 '10 at 0:50
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These sorts of tests work because "who" is for subjects and "whom" is for objects. –  Pops Aug 6 '10 at 19:08
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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
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@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

"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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4  
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 at 19:57

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.

Examples:

  • "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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15  
+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
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+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
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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
    
It'd probably make more sense as "Bob is he, whom we were thinking about before." –  Jeff Lockhart May 9 '13 at 21:42

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:
http://www.grammarbook.com/grammar/whoVwhom.asp

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