Written by David Hatz, Retired Teacher and Coach
Lovers of the English language, whether they be teachers, grammarians, linguists or
whoever, become apoplectic whenever speakers and writers confuse who and whom (and are
quick to correct them).
Most English speakers realize there is a difference between these two pronouns, but not
all understand what the difference is. Hence, these two poor pronouns are often misused.
Sadly, there are people today who no longer believe that it is a big deal and don’t care
which is used. However, as a I lifelong lover and student of English, I do. Further, because it is
easy to determine when to use who/whom, I will give you with you the rule and share a trick so
you will know when to use each.
First, the rule:
• Who is used to refer to the subject of the sentence;
• Whom is used refer to the object of a verb or preposition.
Here are a few examples where who is the subject of a sentence:
Who is going to the football game Friday?
Who qualified for CSF this semester?
Who made these delicious enchiladas?
Now a few simple sentences featuring whom as the object of a verb or preposition:
For whom is the package is intended?
I don’t know with whom I will go to the prom?
Whom do you believe will be our next ASB president?
The key is knowing when the who/whom pronoun is the object of a verb or preposition,
an here is where the simple trick comes in.
Try substituting “he” or “she” and “him or “her.” If “he” or “she” fits, use who. If “him or
“her” fits, use whom.
Example: Who/whom ate my pizza?
OK, try substituting “he” and “him.” He ate my pizza. Him ate my pizza. “He” is obviously
correct so you would use who.
Let’s try another one:
Example: Who/whom should I contact about joining the SCPA?
Try substituting “she” and “her.” I should talk to she. I should talk to her. “Her” works, so
the word you would use is whom.
Now let’s discuss whoever and whomever.
Go back and reread the first paragraph of this article. You will see that I used “whoever.”
Was I right? Let’s put it to the test.
First you need to know that the rule for who and whom also applies to
whoever/whomever. Whoever is a subject pronoun and works like the pronouns he, she, and
they. Whomever is an object pronoun and works like the pronouns him, her, and them.
Because whoever refers to more than one person, “they” and “them” will be the
substitute words. They become apoplectic … Them become apoplectic… . They is obviously
correct, so I got it right.
Here are a couple of other clues that are helpful:
• Whom tends to follow a preposition, like “from” and “to”).
• Whom also tends to come after the verb in the sentence; however, it can start a
sentence, as shown in one of the sentences above.
The important thing to remember is that “whom” is receiving the action, while “who” is
performing the action.
The Trouble with English
Previous articles have included comments on quirks and contradictions that can make
English confusing and difficult, particularly for but not limited to English language learners. Even
the most proficient of speakers and writers often left scratching their heads.
I’ll end today with some observations and questions that hopefully will leave you
Does the fact that Kansas and Arkansas are pronounced differently bother you? It does
Is the “S” or “C” in in scent silent?
Why does “fridge” have a “D” in it, but refrigerator doesn’t?
You can drink a drink, but you can’t food a food.
The word “queue” is just a “Q” with four silent letters.
Hyphenated. Non-hyphenated. Oh, the irony!
And, finally, the word “phonetically” doesn’t even begin with an F. A quirk like this is the
reason aliens fly right past us.
Wishing everyone in the land of Sparta a happy and safe Thanksgiving.