Who vs. Whom

Dr. Gillian Bartlett, Advisor & Content Expert

Dr. Gillian Bartlett, Advisor & Content Expert

Who vs. Whom-502483-edited.pngDo you ever use “whom” when you’re speaking?

 

Do you try to use it when you’re writing in English? Or do you just ignore it altogether. If so, you’re not alone!

The difference between “who” and “whom” is identical to the difference between “she” and “her.”  “She” and “who” are used for the subjects of sentences and clauses, while “her” and “whom” are used as objects. For example, we might say “She caught the ball” or we might ask “Who caught the ball?” In this case, “she” and “who” are subjects of the verb “caught.” On the other hand, we could make the statement “The judge agreed with her,” or we could ask the question “With whom did the judge agree?”  In this example, “her” and “whom” are objects of the preposition “with.”

  

 

So a simple test for whether you ought to use “who” or “whom” should be to try substituting “she” or “her.” Unfortunately a straight substitution won’t work. That’s because of the different ways we structure statements and questions. So when testing for “who” or “whom” by substituting “she” or “her” it’s important you do this as if you were answering the question being asked:

  1. Who/whom caught the ball?
  2. She caught the ball.

Solution:Who caught the ball?”

  1. With who/whom did the judge agree?
  2. The judge agreed with her.

Solution: “With whom did the judge agree?”

For a while it seemed that we were going to escape the puzzle of “who” vs. “whom.” As far back as 1907, the great usage expert H.W. Fowler agreed that “whom” sounded too stuffy for normal conversation.  And by the 1980s, handbooks of current English were predicting the disappearance of “whom” even in formal writing.

But “whom” is still with us, though often incorrectly used. Still, you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself if you make the wrong choice. Even grammar checkers don’t catch all the errors. For example, all but one of the following uses of “who” and “whom” is incorrect. But not one of the 5 wrong sentences was caught by the grammar checker in Word.

Can you spot the single correct sentence?

  1. Who did you meet at the show last night?
  2. Whoever do you mean?
  3. Taxes will go up no matter whom wins the election.
  4. Dominique will go camping with whoever she chooses.
  5. Whom are you waiting for?
  6. Alice Munro was asked to name the writer whom she thought was most influential.

Scroll down for the answer!

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Answer: 5

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