• THE
    Writing Prompt
    Boot Camp

    Subscribe to our FREE email newsletter and get the Writing Prompt Boot Camp download.

    Who vs. Whom

    Categories: Brian Klems' The Writer's Dig, Grammar Rules Tags: Brian Klems, online editor blog.

    Q: I don’t understand the difference between who and whom. Can you please explain to me, in simple terms, how to differentiate between the two?—Anonymous

    The confusion between who and whom is one of the most common problems writers face. It can be tricky to find the correct use, and sometimes you may feel like locating the person who invented both words and smacking him upside his head. But there is a difference.

    Who is used as the subject of a verb or complement of a linking verb. It’s a nominative pronoun. It was Carl who broke all the pencils in the house. When writing a sentence, first find the verb(s)—was and broke. Then, find the subject for each verb: Carl and who. Since who is a subject, it’s correct. Who needs a crayon to write this down?

    Whom is used as the object of the verb or the object of a preposition. It’s an objective pronoun. You asked whom to the dance? In this case, the subject and verb are “You asked.” The pronoun following the verb is the object of the verb, therefore whom is correct. He’s already going to the prom with whom? This pronoun is the object of the preposition with, so whom is the right pick. Be careful, though. Make sure the prepositional pronoun in question isn’t also a subject—if it is, then you use who. For example, I cheered for who played hardest. While the pronoun follows a preposition (for), it’s also the subject of the second verb (played). When placed as a subject, always use who.

    One way to remember is to check to see which pronoun can replace the questionable word. It’s a little trick I learned back in elementary school: If it can be replaced with “he,” you use who; if “him” fits better, use whom. Sometimes you may need to split the sentence to see it. For example, It was Carl—he broke all the pencils in the house. Who should be used here. You asked him to the dance? Whom is the correct choice.

    And when in doubt on the “who whom” debacle, recast the sentence to avoid the issue altogether.

    Want other Grammar Rules? Check out:
    Affect vs. Effect
    Which vs. That
    Since vs. Because
    Sneaked vs. Snuck
    Ensure vs. Insure
    Home in vs. Hone in
    Leaped vs. Leapt
    Lay vs. Lie vs. Laid 

    *********************************************************************************************************************************

    Follow me on Twitter: @BrianKlems
    Enjoy funny parenting blogs? Then you’ll love: The Life Of Dad
    Sign up for my free weekly eNewsletter: WD Newsletter

    You might also like:

    • Print Circulation Form

      Did you love this article? Subscribe Today & Save 58%

    10 Responses to Who vs. Whom

    1. ccopley says:

      I never could keep “complement” or “nominative” straight in my head, so here’s the approach that works for me: Rearrange the sentence, and just remember that “whoM” goes with “hiM,” “theM,” and “Me.” All those “M” sounds belong together. If you rearrange the sentence and get “he,” “they,” or “I,” then the word you’re looking for is “who.”

    2. esteban jonatan says:

      here is a fun link, whether you already understand the distinction between “who” and “whom” or not!

      http://www.linguicon.com/schools/students/grammar/grammar-2-050/

      after starting the e-lesson, the topic is discussed on page 5, but I would start from the beginning

    3. Yep, I’ve always just gone with the good old: “If it can be replaced with ‘he,’ you use who; if ‘him’ fits better, use whom.”

    4. jevon says:

      All the jargon used to explain was still a bit confusing, but the examples really provided some light. I’ll keep this in mind when writing. Thanks.

    5. Thank you for the clarification. Hopefully this will help those who were absent the day it was explained in grammar school. A good way to avoid the issue all together is to write only dialogue where all the rules of grammar are pitched out the window or use a narrator with an American high school education.

    6. Rose says:

      Another thing to consider is the context of your writing. Some characters may not use correct grammar in their speech for example, in which case using ‘whom’ correctly may make the character sound more formal.

      I like the him/he tip.

    7. matthewnjogu says:

      This grammar trick is quite rife

    8. EvilPRman says:

      That’s a great explanation, though I suspect that readers who understand your grammar terms have already mastered the who/whom distinction, and those who need your who/whom distinction do not grasp your grammar terms well enough to “get there from here.”

      That’s why your he/him test is ideal. I’ve used it to help buddies. It simplifies all.

      Your reminder to use “who” in sentences like, “Choose who runs fastest” is an *excellent* clarification.

    Leave a Reply