In this comparison of Who vs Whom, we’ll explain the basics of when to use Whom and when to use Who. We’ll reveal the clues and tricks that you might want to know about the correct use of these pronouns. We’ll give you a side by side look at the differences between the use of whom versus who to help clear up any confusion.
Whom vs Who
- What’s the difference between Whom versus Who?
- When do I use Whom?
- When do I use Who?
- Is Whom or Who correct?
- How do I know whether to use Who vs Whom?
Whom vs Who: Origins and History
Both whom and who were first used as early as before the 12th century and have their origins in Middle English. The origins of the word whom derives from the Old English word hwãm and the word who comes from the Old English word hwã. Whom is used less frequently than in the past and it is typically reserved for more formal environments or writings. As much as language experts predicted that the use of whom would die out, it has persisted.
Even with the attempt of 18th century grammarians to apply Greek and Latin influence, both whom and who are used today very much like they were in the days of Shakespeare. In the last century, there has been an increased hypervigilance regarding the correct use of the word whom. This hypervigilance has caused quite a bit of confusion for many over when to use whom versus who and how to apply the words properly.
Whom versus Who: Basic Rule
Proper grammar use is such an overwhelming topic for even the most educated of people. There are so many rules depending on the words you choose to use. One of the most common controversies is over the proper use of whom versus who.
The basic difference in Whom versus Who is rooted in how the words are used in the English language. Although both who and whom are considered pronouns, they are different types of pronouns. The use of who is for a subject pronoun and the use of whom is for an objective pronoun. For those who can remember Elementary school, you learned how to identify parts of a sentence. Those born in the baby boomer or generation X time period will recall sentence diagramming whereas younger generations may have been taught to circle the subject and draw a square around the verb.
Either way, identifying the parts of the sentence is the first place to begin when trying to determine whether to use who vs whom. Identify the subject of the sentence (who is doing something) and its verb (the action that is being done). Once you’ve clearly identified the subject and the verb, it will be simpler to figure out which pronoun is the correct one to use. When you need to reference the object of a preposition or a verb, whether direct or indirect, the correct pronoun to use is whom. If you are referencing the subject of your sentence, the proper pronoun to use is who.
Whom vs Who: Tricks and Clues
If you’re still having trouble knowing whether to use whom versus who in your sentence, use these tricks or clues to help you remember the correct use. First, you can swap the pronouns he or she in place of who or whom to help give you a clue as to whether to use whom or who. If the sentence makes sense using he or she then use who. If rewriting the statement or the probable answer would be correct using him or her than you use the word whom instead.
Here’s an example: Whom or Who did I squirt with water?
Think about the possible answer to this question, it would be—> I squirted him OR I squirted he.
The first sentence works better “I squirted him” so the correct use for this sentence is Whom did I squirt with water?
Here’s another example: Who or Whom is running down the street?
Think about the possible answer again——> He is running down the street OR Him is running down the street. The first sentence obviously makes more sense and just sounds better. So, in this example, Who is running down the street is correct.
Whom vs Who Quantifier Phrases:
There are some occasions where the use of the word whom just seems necessary. Look for quantifier phrases like few of, both of, many off, all of, and other phrases to clue you in. In many if not all of these cases, you will use the word whom versus the word who.
- Ex. The Beatles have a great number of fans, many of whom still own their music.
- Ex. The college gymnasium held nearly 2,000 people for the graduation ceremony, all of whom were clapping.
The most common mistakes when using who vs whom happen when reporting verbs are used to connect the subject with the verb. Reporting verbs include words like believe, claim, think, report, etc. When you remove the reporting verbs, whether to use who or whom becomes clearer.
- Ex. She is suing for millions of dollars from the publisher whom she claims stole her story. (Incorrect)
- Ex. She is suing for millions of dollars from the publisher who she claims stole her story. (Correct)
Whom vs Who-Side-by-Side
Think you’ve got a handle of when to use whom and when to use who? Test your knowledge of when to use whom versus who by looking at the sentences below:
- (Who or whom) is carrying the cake.
- Susie is going to the store with (who, whom) (object pronoun so whom is correct)
- She is taking seventeen children on the field trip, all of (who or whom) have allergies. (quantifier phrase use obligatory whom)
Answers to above:
- This is a subject pronoun correct use “Who is carrying is the cake?” is the correct use.
- This sentence is an object pronoun so “Susie is going to the store with whom?” is correct.
- This sentence gives you a clue with the quantifier phrase “all of” so “She is taking seventeen children on the field trip, all of whom have allergies” is correct.
The correct use of whom versus who has long been a topic of controversy among even the most educated and scholarly people. Now that you are privy to the basic rules as well as some tricks and clues for the proper use of who vs whom, you’ll be able to apply these pronouns with confidence and accuracy in the future.
Don’t go overboard, but with a little practice, you can soon pass on your knowledge to your friends and family if they make a mistake is their usage. Look for future articles on similar common grammar mistakes on our site. Before long, you’ll be the expert that everyone looks to when a disagreement over correct use ensues.