I am still very confused on when to use who and whom, I understand the idea these sentences are correct:

  • He is the person who won the competition.
  • That is the person whom I went on holiday with.

But what would be correct in the following sentence:

This image shows a patient who is... or whom is?

Would it be who because the patient is the subject, or is it?

  • 3
    A handy trick: you can check this by replacing who/whom with "he" or "him". If "he" works, use "who". If "him" works, use "whom". e.g. "This image shows a patient. He is..." It would sound incorrect if you said "This image shows a patient. Him is..." Mar 2, 2011 at 18:53
  • It's a made-up word used to trick students
    – nohat
    Mar 3, 2011 at 0:52
  • 2
    When in doubt, use "who". Please! (It's very annoying—and a hypercorrection—to hear "whom" in place of "who", but "who" in place of "whom" is almost always fine.) Mar 10, 2011 at 19:40

4 Answers 4


The distinction between cases in the English language is not as strong as it used to be, or as it still is in some other languages, such as German. Because of that, we are left with those odd words that are case-dependent, such as 'who' and 'whom', that continue to be problematic.

When used in the nominative case, such as in the subject of a sentence, use the word 'who'. When used in the accusative case, such as in the object of a sentence, use the word 'whom'?

  • 4
    The grammarian in me agrees completely with the second paragraph; the linguist in me, however, believes it's time for us to admit that whom is rather quaint and precious these days and let it pass quietly into history.
    – bye
    Mar 2, 2011 at 19:23
  • 4
    The linguist in you should probably also be thinking "if this is really case marking, it's highly suspicious that speakers don't acquire it naturally...". Mar 2, 2011 at 20:16
  • examples (one for each) would be v. useful. May 3, 2012 at 10:18

"A patient" is indeed the object of the sentence, but "who is..." is a relative clause modifying that object, so effectively "who" is standing in for the subject of a new clause. So "who" is correct.

By the way, in your second sentence, it should more correctly be:

"...with whom I went on holiday."

  • Oh yes, sorry, I wrote something else first and then forgot to re-read it
    – Yesterday
    Mar 2, 2011 at 18:28
  • 1
    Based on other responses and opinions on this site, it has become acceptable to end sentences with a preposition. See this reponse and this external link to read more on my claim.
    – oosterwal
    Mar 2, 2011 at 18:46
  • 1
    @oosterwal, I'd say it depends. There are indeed cases where moving the preposition makes the sentence more awkward, and then the rule may well be ignored. But "with whom I went" is no less clear than "whom I went with."
    – Alex
    Mar 2, 2011 at 19:01
  • I don't disagree with your assessment. Additionally, concerning the original question, you could also say 'That is the person whom I went with on holiday.
    – oosterwal
    Mar 2, 2011 at 19:05

Counter-question: does it really sound natural to you to use whom in your second example? Of course, if you do, then fair enough, but I suspect that:

  • most speakers would automatically use who and find it more natural;
  • if anything, whom split from the preposition is something of a hypercorrection-- it may well be that what makes the stranding preposition so productive is partly the breakdown of the case system, so there doesn't seem to be so much rationale in pretending that this is an example of "normal" case marking and maintaining "whom".

As far as I can observe, whom is only really very common directly after a preposition, and even then, who is possible ("these are the people for who(m) it's difficult to find work").

The prescriptive answer would generally be that whom is used specifically in cases deemed to be in the "objective" case. So this means direct and indirect objects, objects of prepositions, but not subjects or complements that aren't actually direct or indirect objects (so: "He was not the person who he seemed/appeared/was deemed to be"). In your third example, who would indeed be deemed to be the subject of the relative clause. The fact that this distinction doesn't generally come naturally to speakers shows that it isn't really case marking, and hence there's actually not that much rationale for using whom at all.

If you want to make your life simpler, you could just not use whom at all ever...


'Whom' is an objective pronoun. It can be the target of a verb or the object of a preposition.

Whom as the target of a verb:

You kicked whom?

Whom as the object of a preposition:

To Whom It May Concern:

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