Who vs. whom

 

Q:

When do you use who and when do you use whom?

Marla Yackshaw
[email protected]

A:

Who and whom sometimes cause problems. Some people think that whom is going to disappear from the English language, to be replaced in all cases by who. However, careful speakers do make the distinction between who and whom. Here are some basic distinctions between who and whom.

Who is used as the subject of a verb.

(As an interrogative pronoun):
Who’s calling, please?

(As a relative pronoun):
The man who called asked to speak to my father.
(In this sentence, the relative pronoun that can also be used.)

(As the subject of a noun clause):
I wonder who is going to win the election.

Whom is used in more formal speech and writing as the object of a verb or preposition. Informally, whom is often replaced with who.

In the next, less formal, sentences where whom is an interrogative pronoun, whom or who can be used:

Did you tell anybody about this? Whom did you tell?
Did you tell anybody about this? Who did you tell?

Whom are you going to meet?
Who are you going to meet?

In the next group of sentences, whom is a relative pronoun. Here it’s possible to replace whom with who or that, or to omit the relative pronoun entirely:

She married the man whom she really loved, and lived happily ever after.
She married the man who she really loved, and lived happily ever after.
She married the man that she really loved, and lived happily ever after.
She married the man Ø she really loved, and lived happily ever after.

In the next three sentences, whom appears directly after a preposition. Here only whom is possible, and the pronoun can’t be omitted.

To whom should I address the letter?
The person with whom you should speak is the vice-consul in charge of community relations.

In some other sentence constructions, the choice of who or whom may be more problematic.