Who vs. Whom

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Who vs. whom is another example of two words that are commonly transposed. The correct pronoun to use depends on whether the pronoun in question is the person or people doing something or the person or people have something done to them. Who is used for the subject and whom is used for the object.

Remember Who/whom is subject/object

For example, "Who are they?" and "Who is the tallest?" and "Who is going to the store" are easy. They all sound right and in each case who is clearly the subject.

"Whom should I make this check out to?" I is the subject and the person the check should be made out to is the object. If you twist it around, "I should make this check out to whom?" then it is easier to see that the correct word is whom.

For Whom the Bell Tolls is the name of an Ernest Hemingway novel. It is also the name of John Donne poem. The ringing of the bell is being done to remember someone at a funeral. If it was written another way to change to subject it would be "Who is ringing the bell?" Another rule to remember is that you always use whom after a preposition at the start of a sentence or clause. "To whom should I give this box of doughnuts?"

The Oatmeal has a great comic example that advises readers to consider whether you are referring to someone who is doing something or to someone who is having something done to them. An example they give is a strange man throwing spiders at children. Who was throwing spiders at the children? It was the evil Mr. Jenkins. To whom was Mr. Jenkins throwing spiders at?

The amusing Oatmeal article also has a useful tip that you can use. Replace who/whom with he/she or him/her to determine the correct who or whom pronoun to use. This he/him mnemonic helps solve who/whom sentences that are technically spoken incorrectly, such as "Whom did you call?" Most people would say "Who did you call?" but "Whom did you call" is grammatically correct. If you reorder it so the subject comes first it becomes "Did you call __?" Since you know him/her works best in this case then you know whom is correct.

You can test yourself on who vs. whom with this quiz form the University of Bristol. If you don't get most all of them right you should watch the video below for subject/object instruction.

For more help on who/whom here is an excellent grammar video from the University Writing Studio as the University of Florida. It starts with some subject and object lessons which you need to understand to be able to solve your who/whom issues. They show you how it becomes easier to figure out who/whom dilemmas once you completely understand sentence subjects and objects.