With a two-party system, our nation will divide the people (who/whom) most need to be brought together.

Do I use who or whom for this sentence? I think that "people" is the direct object and warrants the use of "whom", but I want to make sure I'm right.

  • 6
    What's the subject of the verb need?
    – tchrist
    Oct 31, 2017 at 0:24
  • 3
    The subject is "the people". I take it the answer is "who", then. Especially because you can substitute "who" for "they" to make the statement "they most need to be brought together".
    – Thomas
    Oct 31, 2017 at 0:28
  • 5
    One trick to figure it out: "They need to be brought together" or "them need to be brought together"? Oct 31, 2017 at 3:19
  • 3
    The rule I was taught (before it became acceptable to replace almost any "whom" with "who") is that a relative pronoun's case is determined by the relative clause that it introduces, not by the rest of the sentence. In your example, that relative clause is "who(m?) most need to be brought together." Here "who(m)" is the subject, so "who" is correct. It doesn't matter that this relative clause modifies the direct object "people" of "divide" in the rest of the sentence. Oct 31, 2017 at 3:33
  • 1

3 Answers 3


Because the subject of who most need is simply who, you have to use

With a two-party system, our nation will divide the people who most need to be brought together.

If you want a whom example, try

With a two-party system, our nation will divide the people whom you most need brought together.

The relative pronoun takes the case of the role it plays in its clause.

A simple rule of thumb is that if you can get away with omitting the relative pronoun, then it must be whom if you don’t omit, while if you cannot omit it and have the sentence still make any sense, then it must be either who or whose.

  • 3
    Isn't whom dead yet?
    – Octopus
    Oct 31, 2017 at 3:24
  • 7
    @Octopus: If whom is facing certain death, I hereby promise to give it refuge in my regular speech.
    – Andriy M
    Oct 31, 2017 at 8:14
  • 13
    @Octopus Ask not if for 'whom' the bell tolls... Oct 31, 2017 at 9:25
  • 1
    @StigHemmer Never to send to know
    – Strawberry
    Oct 31, 2017 at 15:12
  • 1
    @Octopus Isn't who dead yet? *runs away* Oct 31, 2017 at 17:25

I like the he/him rule: if you rewrite the clause using he and him and see what makes sense, that tells you whether it's who or whom. Which works better: "he needs to be brought together", or "him needs to be brought together"? I think the former works (ignoring the difficulty of bringing together one person), therefore I think the original sentence needs "who".

  • You can just as well test with they/them. It only fails for it. (And using she/her will not distinguish whom from whose, but people usually do not have that problem.)
    – Carsten S
    Oct 31, 2017 at 9:49
Subject | Direct Object | Indirect object | Possessive
he      | him           | to him          | his
they    | them          | to them         | theirs
who     | who           | to whom         | whose

As @tchrist pointed out, "the people who need" are the subject of the sentence, so it's who, not whom.

Whom is usually the indirect object of the sentence, as in

"To whom should I make this cheque payable".

When you have a direct object, it's usually who, as in

"He doesn't care who he hurts with his snarky comments".

According to this Oxford Dictionaries blogpost, whether to use who or whom for the direct object is in flux and a matter of personal preference.

  • So if it's "technically incorrect," you can use 'who' instead of 'whom'? Oct 31, 2017 at 13:08
  • I meant that using "who" as the direct object is probably technically incorrect - but "whom" sounds odd in that sentence. Oct 31, 2017 at 13:12
  • this is all much easier in German with its well-defined cases (Nominative, Accusative, Dative, and Genitive) Oct 31, 2017 at 13:13
  • 2
    depends if you are a believer in prescriptive grammar (telling people what to say/write), or descriptive grammar (describing what people actually say/write). Oct 31, 2017 at 13:15
  • 1
    @Clare They say "would of"? Or they say "would've" and write "would of"? Oct 31, 2017 at 17:27

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