Elizabeth O'Brien

Hello! I'm Elizabeth O'Brien, and my goal is to get you jazzed about grammar. 

Who vs. Whom
Which one should you use?

It's time to study who vs. whom, a topic you've all been waiting for!

I remember a time when I didn't know that whom was a word. (That's not an exaggeration, folks. It's just a sad, sad fact.) You're clearly a step ahead of where I was then because you're aware that whom exists, but you may have some confusion surrounding when you're supposed to use it.

Let's explore this topic together and get you confident about which word to use! 

Who is a subject.

Let's start with the word who. Who is a subject pronoun. Subjects are words that tell us whom or what a sentence is about. Whenever we need to use the word as a subject, it should be who

Birds chirp.      Who chirped?

Andrew called David.      Who called David?

The underlined words are the subjects of the sentences. They tell us whom or what each sentence is about. 

If you diagram sentences, you know that there are certain slots in a sentence diagram. Some of the slots are for subjects and some are for objects. Here is the skeleton of a diagram showing you two slots that would be filled with subject pronouns like who. I highlighted the applicable slots in blue.

sentence diagram - slots for WHO

Obviously, the subject slot in a sentence diagram is used as the subject, but predicate nouns (nouns after linking verbs) should also be in the subjective case. Here is an example of who used as a predicate noun.

  The president is who?

President is the subject of the sentence, but who is a pronoun that comes after a linking verb. It is in the predicate noun slot, and that means that it should be in the subjective case.

Whom is an object.

Whom is an object pronoun. Whenever we need to use the word as an object, it should be whom. Put on your seat belts now because things start to get tricky when we talk about objects. 

There are different types of objects. Let's look at three of the most commonly used objects: direct objects, indirect objects, and objects of prepositions.

I baked a cake.     You called whom?

I baked the class a cake.       You baked whom a cake?

I baked a cake for the class.       You baked a cake for whom?

Here is a sentence diagram showing you the slots that would be used for objects. If a word is diagrammed in the yellow slots below, it should be whom.

sentence diagram - slots for WHOM

Before I show you a shortcut for figuring all of this out, I need to tell you one more thing about using who or whom.

Use the word that fits the smallest unit of language that the word is in. For example, let's say that you have a dependent noun clause being used as the direct object of the sentence. The clause would go in the direct object slot (see above).

As you can see, the direct object slot is yellow, meaning we would use the word whom. However, if the word-in-question is functioning as the subject of the noun clause, it would be in the subjective case (who) even though the whole clause is in the direct object slot. Does that make sense? Here's a diagram of what I mean:

sentence diagram - slots for WHO and WHOM

These are the situations that get difficult to understand unless you can diagram the sentence! For example, should this be whoever or whomever?

I can be whoever/whomever I want to be.

It's so hard to figure this out unless you can diagram the sentence.  

I can be whoever I want to be.

Whoever is in the predicate noun slot after a linking verb, so I know that it should be in the subjective case.

If that lesson didn't help clear up this "who vs. whom" mess for you, here is some good news ...

Thanks for nothing, Elizabeth.
That doesn't make any sense to me.

If you feel like this information has not been the least bit useful, it's probably because you're still learning to tell the difference between subjects and objects.

If that's so, you're in luck. There is an easy way out of this whole who vs. whom business. You can use the trusty him test.

While you may not know when to use who and whom, I'll bet that you know when to use he and him, right?

If you're not sure what to use, simply insert the word he or him into your sentence and see which one sounds right. If he sounds right, use who. If him sounds right, use whom. (This works because he is a subject pronoun and him is an object pronoun.)

He/Him ate my cookie?

Who/Whom ate my cookie?

When it comes to certain questions, the him test gets a little wonky. In order to perform this test on questions, it's helpful to turn them into statements first.

He/Him did you send the card to? = You did send the card to he/him.

You did send the card to who/whom. = Whom did you send the card to?

I hope this page has helped to solve your who vs. whom questions.

Let's end with a clip from The Office. This clip is part of a larger debate about whoever and whomever. :) 

Creed and WHOMEVER
Oscar and WHOMEVER

Pam is right!

Elizabeth O'Brien from Grammar Revolution

If you don't want to teach or learn grammar by yourself, click here to see how I can help you.

My daughter and I looked at your helping verbs video, and we learned your song. Yay! It's brilliant. Thank you. This inspired my daughter to write out the song and draw a picture of a flower next to it with the title, 'I love helping verbs' in bubble writing. How cute is that?! Nothing previously has ever inspired her to write independently!

Your enthusiasm is contagious!
- Leanne and Sienna (aged 7)

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Elizabeth O'Brien

Elizabeth O'Brien is the creator of Grammar Revolution.

Her lessons are guaranteed to give you more confidence in your communication skills and make you smile. :)

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