Who vs Whom: Understanding Usage with Clear Examples

  • Who” serves as the subject pronoun, while “whom” functions as the object pronoun.
  • A simple heuristic to distinguish between them is substituting “who” with “he” or “she,” and “whom” with “him” or “her.”
  • Properly using “who” and “whom” enhances the precision and formality of written language.

Navigating the intricacies of English grammar can often seem daunting, especially when it comes to choosing between the pronouns “who” and “whom.” These terms are frequently misused, although they serve distinct purposes within sentences. “Who” is used when referring to the subject of a sentence—the person performing the action—whereas “whom” is reserved for the object, the individual on the receiving end of the action.

Who’s vs Whom: Understanding the Difference

Who’s is a contraction for “who is” or “who has,” and is never to be confused with whom, which is an objective case pronoun used to refer to the object of a verb or preposition.

Examples of “who’s”:

  • Who’s going to the store? (“who’s” = “who is”)
  • I wonder who’s seen my keys. (“who’s” = “who has”)

Whom, on the other hand, plays a different role; it’s used to refer to someone who is the recipient of an action or is being described in relation to something else.

When to Use “Who”When to Use “Whom”
As the subject of a clauseAs the object of a clause
Alongside subjects like “He” or “She”Alongside objects like “Him” or “Her”

To test: If you can replace it with “he” or “she,” use who. If “him” or “her” fits better, use whom.

Examples with “whom”:

  • The author, whom you met last week, is signing books today.
  • Whom did you give the book to?
  • Use who when referring to the subject.
  • Use whom when referring to the object of an action or preposition.
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Subject vs Object: Key Distinctions

Subjects are the doers of an action, while objects receive that action.

Subjects

  • Performed the action in a sentence.
  • Can be replaced with he, she, or they.

Objects

  • Receive the action in a sentence.
  • Can be replaced with him, her, or them.

Examples of Subjects

SentenceSubject
She runs the meeting.She
They will attend the conference.They

Examples of Objects

SentenceObject
The manager praised him.Him
I sent the emails to her and them.Her, Them

When determining whether to use “who” or “whom,” one must identify these components:

  • Who is used for the subject of the verb.
  • Whom refers to the object of a verb or preposition.
Applying Who and Whom
  • The person who called me was kind.
    • “Who” is the subject of “called.”
  • To whom should I address the letter?
    • “Whom” is the object of the preposition “to.”

Exploring Relative Pronouns: A Quick Overview

Who is used primarily as a subjective pronoun, meaning it refers to the subject of the verb, the one doing the action. For example:

  • The journalist who wrote the article won an award.

Conversely, whom serves as an objective pronoun, relating to the object of a verb or preposition. For instance:

  • To whom did you give the book?
Subjective PronounExample Sentence
WhoShe is the one who loves to travel.
Objective PronounExample Sentence
WhomHe is the one whom the company greatly values.

Consider these scenarios:

  • Who/Whom is calling me? (Rephrased: Is he calling me? Use who.)
  • You met who/whom at the party? (Rephrased: You met him at the party? Use whom.)
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Examples of “Who” Used in Sentences

Here are some examples to illustrate its proper use.

In Statements

“Who” frequently appears at the beginning of a sentence or clause, identifying the subject:

SentenceExplanation
Who wants tea?“Who” is the subject asking about a person desiring tea.
She is the one who helped me.“Who” refers to the person performing the help.

In Questions

Asking about the identity or nature of a person commonly involves “who”:

  • Who is going to the store?
    • “Who” is the subject performing the action of going.
  • Who discovered penicillin?
    • “Who” inquires about the person responsible for the discovery.

In Relative Clauses

“Who” connects descriptive information to a noun, providing more detail:

  • The scientist who won the prize is speaking today.
    • “Who” introduces additional information about the scientist.
  • The artist who painted this is renowned.
    • “Who” connects the relative clause to “the artist,” indicating who did the painting.

By taking heed of these examples, one can accurately determine when to employ “who.”

Examples of “Whom” Used in Sentences

“Whom” serves as the object of a verb or preposition. Below are examples to demonstrate the correct usage of “whom” in sentences.

Direct Object Usage
“Whom” can act as the direct object of a verb, as in a person to whom the action is happening.

  • Example: “To whom did the counselor speak about the schedule changes?”

Indirect Object Usage
It can also be an indirect object, receiving the direct object in the sentence.

  • Example: “The customer gave the feedback to whom at the service desk?”
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Following Prepositions
When a preposition comes before the pronoun, “whom” is the proper choice.

  • Example: “With whom will you be attending the event?”
Sentence ExampleWhy “Whom” is Correct
For whom did you buy this gift?“Whom” is the object of the verb “buy.”
The author, whom we met last week, won an award.“Whom” is the object of the verb “met.”

In Questions
In questions, use “whom” when you would answer with an object pronoun like “him” or “her.”

  • Example: “Whom are you inviting to the wedding?”

In Relative Clauses
“Whom” is used in relative clauses when referring to the object of the clause.

  • Example: “She had an assistant, whom she trusted completely.”
QuestionRelative Clause Example
To whom should I address my concerns?The person to whom you are speaking is in charge.

In crafting sentences, it’s beneficial to remember that “whom” is not commonly used in casual conversation; its usage appears more in formal writing. Note that in many everyday contexts, using “who” in place of “whom” is increasingly common and often accepted in informal speech.

  • Formal: “Whom did he blame for the mistake?”
  • Informal Equivalent: “Who did he blame for the mistake?”

Sources

Etymology of who/whom

Example sentences of whom

Example sentences of who

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