Who vs Whom

Another request: who vs whom.

I think most people, whenever they think about using “whom” in a written sentence, stop and wonder whether they’re doing it right.

Psychological reassurance: The reality is that this is one case where you can probably relax, because most people speak English differently to how we write English. If you write “who” every time, it’ll look fine, because this is almost always the word people use when we’re speaking. Because “whom” sounds pompous out loud, almost nobody says it, even when grammatically they should. So when you write “who”, even if it should be “whom”, most people reading it will think, “Yeah, I’d say ‘who’. That looks fine to me.”

But if you still really care about writing it correctly, then let’s get word nerdy!

Image source: Cata memes.

Just like in that post where we talked about active voice, it’s all about identifying the subject and the object of the sentence or clause (a clause is a section of a sentence).

Someone [subject who] does something [verb] to someone/something else [object whom].

How to figure out when to use who vs whom

One question you can ask yourself – would the sentence make sense with “he” or “him” instead of the “who / whom”? Because “him” and “whom” both have an M in them, so if the sentence would sound good with “him”, you should be using “whom”.

Another question you can ask – could you say “that” instead of “who” and have the sentence still make sense? If yes, “who” is correct.

When to use who

1. At the start of a sentence:

e.g. Who audited our company?

e.g. Who’s going to make that decision?

e.g. Who will benefit from the decision?

2. In the middle of a sentence:

e.g. Was it KPMG [subject] who audited [verb] our company [object]?

e.g. My manager, who made that decision, later changed their mind.

e.g. KPMG [subject], who would have benefited from [verb] the decision [object], was disappointed [verb].

When to use whom

1. At the start of a sentence:

e.g. Whom [object] should we [subject] hire [verb] to run a creche for children of our employees?

e.g. Whom [object] did you [subject] call [verb] about the audit?

2. In the middle of a sentence:

Simpler example:

e.g. I don’t know whom to believe.

Complicated example:

e.g. I called the auditor from KPMG, whom you met yesterday, about the audit.

>>> In this sentence, you are the subject, the person doing the meeting, so in the clause about meeting the auditor, it should be “whom”.

Compare this to…

e.g. I called the man from KPMG you met yesterday – the one who did the audit for you.

>>> In this sentence, the man from KPMG did the auditing. So in the clause about the auditing, they are the subject, so it should be “who”.

3. Anytime there is a preposition like “to”, “from”, “by”:

e.g. To whom it may concern,

e.g. And that letter was written by whom?

e.g. To whom did you wish to speak?

e.g. The members to whom our investment returns go are happy when returns are high.

>>> Compare this to…

e.g. The members who benefit from our investment returns are happy when returns are high.

4. Anytime there is a “quantifier”, which is a counting word for the people being talked about:

e.g. Our company has about 500,000 registered clients, many of [quantifier] whom work for the government.

>>> But remember that if the quantifier is not directly attached to the “whom”, then it needs to be “who” instead.

e.g. CompanyX has many [quantifier] members who work for the government.

Finally, if you’d like a laugh, here’s the Know Your Meme page that explains how we ended up with the internet atrocity known as the “whomst” or “whom’st’d’ve’ed” meme.

(C) TJ Withers-Ryan, 2022. Please credit me when you share or repost. Thanks!

One thought on “Who vs Whom

  1. I use the him/her technique to decide too, though sometimes there are some grey areas (which escape me now). And also, every time I use whom, I can’t help but think of Ross in Friends, lol. Anyway, thanks for this post!


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