Grammar Bite #21—Use of ‘who’ and ‘whom’

24 May 2012

 

Knowing when to use the pronouns ‘who’ or ‘whom’ causes problems for a lot of us. Honestly, there are times when I have to stop and think hard about which one is correct.

 

Basically, use ‘who’ when you’re referring to the subject of a sentence. And use ‘whom’ when you’re referring to the object of a sentence.

 

There are two ways to check which pronoun to use:

1.    Restructure the ‘who’/‘whom’ parts of the sentence.

2.   In the restructured sentence, replace ‘who’ with another subject pronoun or ‘whom’ with another object pronoun.

 

Here’s how to use these methods.

 

Who – the ‘subject’ pronoun

Let’s look at this example: Pamela is the one who just joined the company.

 

Restructure

To restructure the ‘who’ part of the sentence, say: Pamela just joined the company. Since the ‘who’ part of the original sentence refers to the subject (Pamela), ‘who’ is the correct pronoun to use in it.

 

Replace ‘who’ with another subject pronoun

Subject pronouns include: I, he, she, we, they

 

In the restructured sentence, we will replace ‘Pamela’ with the subject pronoun she to see if it works.  She just joined the company. This is correct, so again, ‘who’ is correct in the original sentence.

 

Question form

The question form of this example is: Who just joined the company?

 

Whom – the ‘object’ pronoun

Let’s look at this example: My Aunt Ginny, whom we will visit next month, is 90 years old.

 

Restructure

To restructure the ‘whom’ part of this sentence, say: We will visit Aunt Ginny next month. In this case, ‘Aunt Ginny’ is the object of the sentence, so ‘whom’ is the correct pronoun to use in the original sentence.

 

Replace ‘whom’ with another object pronoun

Object pronouns include: me, her, him, us, them

 

In the restructured sentence, we will replace ‘Aunt Ginny’ with the object pronoun her to see if it’s correct. We will visit her next month. This again shows that ‘whom’ is the correct pronoun to use in the original sentence.

Question form

The question form of this example is: Whom are you going to visit next month?

 

(Update: In this question, ‘whom’ sounds very formal, so nowadays it is often changed to ‘who’, especially in speech. Although ‘whom’ is the grammatically correct word to use, ‘who’ is commonly accepted.)

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