A lot of people have trouble on when to use the words who and whom. Mixing these words up can be relatively easy, and, if you confuse them too frequently, it can cause your writing to look sloppy.
So, in this post we’ll talk about the grammatical functions of who vs. whom as well as give you a few tricks to easily determine which word to use and when.
Now, to begin, both who and whom are pronouns, which means they are words used as substitutes for nouns. But even though they are both pronouns, they are used different in a sentence. Let’s take a look at each word.
When to Use Who
When do you use who? When who is used in a sentence, it takes the nominative form. That simply means that it acts as the subject of the sentence. For instance,
- Who ate the pizza?
- He ate the pizza.
In this example, who is acting as the subject of the sentence in the same way that he is.
When to Use Whom
When do you use whom? When whom is used in a sentence, it takes the objective form. That simply means that it acts as an object, either of a verb or preposition. For example,
- You called whom?
- You called him?
- I deliver the pizza to whom?
- I delivered the pizza to him.
In both of these examples, the word whom is acting as an object.
In the first set, the word whom is acting as the object of the verb “call.” Whom did you call? I called him. It describes the person you called.
In the second set, the word whom is acting as the object of the preposition “to.” To whom did you deliver the pizza? I delivered the pizza to him. It describes the person to whom you delivered the pizza (to him).
Now, determining the case (nominative or objective) of these words can sometimes be tricky because who and whom so often find themselves in the form of a question.
This makes their true function within the sentence hard to see unless you sort the words into a standard subject-verb-object sentence. To help with this, I suggest changing sentences like the following ones into “I should say who is calling?” to make them easier.
- Wrong: Whom should I say is calling?
- Correct: Who should I say is calling?
By changing these sentences into the form “I should say who is calling?” you can more clearly see identify the subject, verb, and object.
Another problem that arises when determining the proper case is when the pronoun serves a function (for example, nominative) in a clause that itself serves a different function (for example, objective) in the main clause.
In situations like these, the pronoun’s function within its own clause determines its case. For example,
- WRONG: Give it to whomever wants it.
- CORRECT: Give it to whoever wants it.
- WRONG: Whoever you choose is fine by me.
- CORRECT: Whomever you choose is fine by me.
In the first example above, the entire clause “whoever wants it” is the object of the preposition “to.” But, in the clause itself, “whoever” serves as the subject, and that function determines the case.
Similarly, in the second sentence “whomever” is the object of “choose” in the clause, so it must be in the objective case even though the clause itself serves as the subject of the sentence.
Tricks to Remember
Now that you know the functions of whom vs. who within a sentence, I can show you an easy trick that can speed up the process of determining their cases.
If you still don’t know when to use who or whom, try simply substituting the words he/him in the clause where the whom or who appears. If “him” sounds better than “he” in the clause, use “whom” because “him” and “whom” both end in and “m” For our above examples,
- Wrong: I should say him is calling.
- Correct: I should say he is calling.
“Him” does not work in this sentence which means that “he” or “who” is the correct choice.
In short, who and whom have specific functions in a sentence, and it’s important to use each word correctly.
- The word “who” acts as the subject of a sentence.
- Who ate my pizza?
- The word “whom” acts as the object of a verb or preposition.
- Whom are you calling?
- To whom are you talking?
- You can substitute he/him for who/whom if you are having difficulties in determining their function within a sentence.