I think I should use "whom is to blame" but I don't know.

In speech I'd probably say "who's to blame?" implying "who is" but that just doesn't sound quite right to me.

  • 6
    Resist the impulse to use whom. Anywhere. Certainly not as the subject of is to blame. Nov 27, 2016 at 21:51
  • 2
    If a credible answer to a who/whom question is Him, you could at least consider using whom. But apart from "fixed expression" forms such as To whom it may concern or For whom the bell tolls (preceding preposition), @John Lawler's advice is really all you need. Nov 27, 2016 at 23:14
  • I don't see what's wrong with "Who's to blame?". That's what I would say. I think the answer to "Who's to blame?" is "He is!" and not "Him", which is again what I would expect the response to me if I were to ask this question. Actually, the expected response to "Who's to blame?" would be "That guy!".
    – Tucker
    Nov 28, 2016 at 7:06

2 Answers 2


Whom is to blame? is wrong, from what I can tell.

Whom is a pronoun that may only serve as the object in a sentence (be it affirmative or interrogative), and as such it cannot be used in a sentence where no subject is stated, or at the very least, implied. Your question should read:

Whom are we to blame?


Whom should we blame?

(we, in both cases, being the subject).

As deadrat has noted in his comment below, whom may very well appear in an imperative clause, where the subject is not explicitly stated, but rather implied, such as:

Blame whom you like.

As for your instinctive choice Who is to blame, the issue here is not the opening question word, but the voice of the infinitive ("to blame"), 'cause whoever he/she is, Mr. Who is not the one blaming but the one being blamed, so if one prioritized semantical transparency, as Janus Bahs Jacquet puts it, the question should read:

Who is to be blamed?

Who is to blame? is not, however, wrong. It's merely idiomatic.

To blame has virtually come to serve as a synonym for "blameable" (see Janus Bahs Jacquet's comment for a more refined description), while the subject of the infinitive (i.e. those blaming), is left to the realm of the implicit, so to speak, and thus rid of its significance.

Yet another alternative, almost identical to the last one, but less confusing perhaps, is:

Who is there to blame?

Addendum: Thanks to both aforementioned members for their constructive criticism of my initial answer.

  • 1
    “Who is to blame?” doesn't imply that that who will be doing the blaming. To blame is simply an idiomatic, if not exactly logical, pseudo-adjectival collocation that means ‘blameable’. The wording “Who is to blame?” is far more idiomatic than “Who is to be blamed?”, so saying that it ‘should’ be the latter makes very little sense. It would be more semantically transparent if it were the latter, but language is not always semantically transparent. Nov 27, 2016 at 22:32
  • There's a good answer lurking in there somewhere. Tighten this up a bit. Whom may serve only as the object in a sentence. Sentences don't have objects; certain syntactic elements do. This sentence has a stated subject, namely who, and whom may certainly appear in sentences with no stated subject: Kill whom you like. There is no voice for the finite verb in the sentence; you may mean that the infinitive could be active (to blame) or passive (to be blamed). The latter isn't a should but a could, for reasons of idiom as JBJ points out. [con't]->
    – deadrat
    Nov 27, 2016 at 23:09
  • <-[con't] I think you've put your finger on one cause of the OP's unease: that the semantic receiver of the blame is the subject, and you've given two nice transpositions to whom. I think there's an additional element of hypercorrection, i.e., the OP may have been repeatedly warned to use whom in sentences like Whom did you talk to?, where who is rapidly becoming acceptable (as JL implies above) if it's not already there.
    – deadrat
    Nov 27, 2016 at 23:14
  • +1. I'd agree with the idiomatic origin but would love to see if there exists some authoritative reference!
    – RexYuan
    Nov 28, 2016 at 9:21

The correct choice would be,

Who is to blame?

The word who is the subject of the verb, not the object. In fact, the verb to be is a linking verb, as are all forms of to be, meaning that they don't take objects, but rather re-describe the subject with a subject complement.

When it comes to linking verbs, you should always use who, not whom. But with an action verb, like hit, it would be correct to use whom. For example,

Whom did Alex hit with the rock?

Here, the subject of the verb is Alex, and whom is the object. This a correct use of whom.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.