Who and whom are two of the most commonly confused pronouns in English grammar. Since they look and sound so similar, people often mistakenly use them interchangeably, but that’s not correct usage at all! Here’s what you need to know about the correct use of who vs whom, why it matters and how to fix it if you’re already making this error in your writing or speaking. People often get confused over whether they should use who or whom in a sentence. A simple way to think about it is that you can decide between who and whom by determining if your subject is acting on or receiving action from its object.
Who As Subject
Generally speaking, you should use who when you can use he or she.
Who built that deck?
We don’t know. (In other words, we don’t know who did.)
He built that deck. So, we do know who built it.
She built that deck. It was she.
Using who as a subject makes it possible for us to avoid awkward constructions like it was him/her who… or him/her built that deck.
If your subject is performing an action/ on something or someone else, use who.
Let’s discuss this example:
The man [subject] with blue eyes [object] loves his wife [object].
Here, we use ‘who’. This is because our subject the ‘man’, is performing an action (loving) to another person (his wife), we use ‘who’.
Whom As Object
Let’s see the situations when you should use ‘whom’.
Remember, if your subject is being acted upon by someone else, use whom.
The woman [subject] whom I love [object] lives across town.
Here, we use ‘whom’. This is because it is clear that our subject (the woman) is being acted upon by someone else (I). Therefore, we use whom. If you’re ever unsure whether or not to use who or whom in a sentence, determine whether you want to refer to the subject or the object.
Who Vs Whom Trick
Now, I am going to share with you a very easy and quick trick that I call the ‘who vs whom trick’.
Simply when in doubt, form a question and answer it.
If in your answer you get the pronouns he, she, they, or I, it means that you mean to use the pronoun as the subject.
If you get him, she, them or me in your answer, then it clearly means that you mean to use the pronoun as the object.
Remember, Who is for subjects of a sentence, and whom is for objects.
For example, ‘You’ll find him [subject] in his office [object]’.
Another tip is to use this simple rule. Replace who or whom with he/ she or him/her; if you can do it without changing meaning, you’re OK.
Take these examples:
He knows me [subject]
I know him [object].
The same works if you reverse them: Him I know [object], he knows me [subject]. If it doesn’t work that way, you need whom.
Using Who Correctly With Examples
You use who to refer to people or animals. To help you see how who is used, here are a few examples of how it is correctly used in a sentence:
- I know who did it (referring to a person).
- That’s not who we talked about (referring to a person again).
- That’s not his dog; it’s who’s dog? (here, we are talking about an animal).
- We should let him buy what he wants; he knows what he wants better than us . . . after all, he is who he is!
Using Whom Correctly With Examples
The word whom is usually used as an object. However, it is also used informally as a subject.
If we want to use whom as a subject, then there must be a preposition attached such as with, in front of, after etc. Also, remember that whom comes before he/she/it.
To determine whether whom should be used as a subject or an object, ask yourself whether you can take away who without having any effect on meaning. In these instances, let’s see how whom is used as a subject and as an object.
- To whom do you wish to speak? (Object)
- Whom did you see? (Subject)
- With whom did Sam speak? (Object)
- Whom can you meet to report the issue? (Subject)
In summary, formally use whom when it functions as an object of a verb or preposition. However, you can informally use it when functioning as a subject.
Who Vs Whom Quiz
To test your learning about using who vs whom, check out this free practice quiz.
Books To Learn Grammar
- The English Grammar Workbook for Adults: A Self-Study Guide to Improve Functional Writing by Michael DiGiacomo
- English Grammar in Use Book with Answers: A Self-Study Reference and Practice Book for Intermediate Learners of English by Raymond Murphy
- Essential Grammar in Use with Answers: A Self-Study Reference and Practice Book for Elementary Learners of English by Raymond Murphy
- Advanced Grammar in Use with Answers: A Self-Study Reference and Practice Book for Advanced Learners of English by Martin Hewings