“It is not to who; it is to whom!”
We have all be in the situation where we make a statement to a group of people and then that one person calls us out on how totally and completely wrong our grammar was. It can be embarrassing and downright frustrating, especially when you do not even get what was wrong with what you said in the first place.
Who vs whom is one of those tricky wordplay things that everyone mixes up all the time. They sound very similar, look very similar, and do they actually mean two different things?
In this article, we will unpack all of that, so next time you need to use one, you will be able to do so confidently without fear of embarrassment.
The pronoun ‘who’ has two precise definitions. The first is “what person” or “which people.” The following list is examples of who used in this form:
- Who is the lady?
- Who is going to be apart of the 2020 election?
- You need to find out who did that.
- Do you not know who said that about you?
The second use of who is to introduce a clause that provides more information about someone previously mentioned in the sentence. The first is the most common use of the word, who, as the later can sometime sound formal, but it is important to understand how to use both. Here are some examples of who used in that way:
- My mother, who is a cook, makes great pastries.
- Dogs who cannot stay quite are annoying.
- She is a character who we are meant to pity, but really most of us simply cannot stand her.
- He was a superhero who every single person hates.
Whom is the object of a verb or a preceding preposition. It is actually considered the objective form of who, so when you mess up who versus whom, you are technically using the wrong form, not the wrong word if that makes you feel better.
To use this word correctly, you need to know what a verb and a preposition are. A verb is a word that is an action, a state of being, or an occurrence. A preposition is a word that states the relationship between two other words in the clause. Here are some examples of whom used correctly:
- Whom are you looking for?
- To whom are you talking to?
How to remember
There are two main kinds of pronouns: subject pronouns and object pronouns. Subject pronouns tell us who or what, while objective pronouns have the action (or the verb) done to them. Who is a subjective pronoun while whom is an objective pronoun. Knowing this can help you figure out whether or not you should be using who or whom.
The common subjective pronouns are I, she, he, it, you, we, and they. The common objective pronouns are me, you, him, her it, us, and they. Do not worry; you do not need to remember what all the pronouns are to remember who versus whom. All you need to remember are she and he are subject pronouns while him and her are object pronouns. When you are debating which one to use, put she/he or him/her in the space where the who or whom goes. If she or he sounds correct, use who. If him or her sounds correct, use whom.
Will you really know whether it would be she or her based on the sound? Yes! Let’s take an example from above to prove that.
“She is the lady” OR “Her is the lady.”
Her does not sound right in that spot, but she does, that means you should put who there, not whom. Before long, who and whom will sound as obviously correct or incorrect and she and her.
An important thing to note is that if you are trying to figure out who versus whom for a question, put the replacement in the answer (neither will make sense in the question.)
Let’s break down a few more examples to make sure you got it. For each example, try using the substitution trick to figure out whether you should use who or whom. In the beginning, I am going to walk through it with you to make sure you understand what you are doing, and then there will be a few examples for you to try on your own. (The answers will be at the end.)
Who/Whom owes me money?
Alright, this is a question, so you should put him/he or her/she in the answer. Your two options are: “She owes me money.” OR “Her owes me money.” If you are not sure just by reading it, say it out loud.
“She owes me money” makes sense. She is a subjective pronoun, so you should use who.
The answer: Who owes me money?
Who/Whom should I distract today?
Once again, this is a question, so you should put him/he or her/she in the answer. Your two options are: “I should distract he.” OR “I should distract him.” Again, if you cannot figure it out just by reading it, say it out loud.
“I should distract him” makes much more sense than “I should distract he.” ‘Him’ is an objective pronoun, so you should use whom.
The answer: Whom should I distract today?
Alright, now try these next two on your own!
She was a bully, who/whom had her heart broken.
The answer: She was a bully, WHO had her heart broken.
Who/Whom do we all love?
The answer: WHOM do we all love?
See, that was not to bad! Now next time you need to use who or whom, you can pick the correct answer confidently. In the beginning, it may take you a second to go through replacing who/whom with he/him or she/her, but before long it will become second nature, and you will be using the correct word without missing a beat.
WHO feels smarter already? You should! With knowledge comes power, and you now have a little bit more of both.