When to Use Who vs. Whom

By Alan Reiner – April 18, 2024

When it comes to using “who” and “whom” correctly, many people find it challenging to determine the appropriate choice. These two pronouns may seem similar, but knowing when to use each will significantly improve your writing and communication skills.

Understanding the difference between “who” and “whom” is about identifying the role of the pronoun within a sentence. “Who” functions as the subject, performing the action of a verb, while “whom” is used as the object, receiving the action. A handy tip to remember is that if you can replace the word with “he” or “she,” use “who,” and if “him” or “her” fits better, use “whom.”

Throughout this article, we will explore additional examples and rules to help you master the use of “who” and “whom” and enhance your grammatical confidence. With practice, you’ll find that choosing the correct pronoun becomes second nature.

When to Use Who

Who is a subjective-case pronoun, which basically means it is the subject in a sentence. You use “who” to refer to the person performing the action of a verb or when asking about an individual in a question.

For example:

  • Who is coming to the party?
  • Emily, who lives next door, is taking care of our dog.

In questions, you’ll often see “who” at the beginning of a sentence. Here are some examples with the correct pronoun substitution:

  • Who wants to go to the movies? (He wants to go to the movies.)
  • Who is responsible for this decision? (She is responsible for this decision.)

Remember that “who” can also introduce relative clauses, which provide additional information about a noun in the sentence. For example:

  • The author who wrote this book is very famous.
  • The employees who work here are very dedicated.

In summary, when you need to refer to the subject of a sentence, especially in questions and relative clauses, use “who.” By keeping in mind the simple trick of substituting “he” or “she” in these cases, you can confidently use “who” in your speech and writing.

When to Use Whom

Whom is an objective-case pronoun, which basically means it acts as an object in a sentence. You can use whom to refer to the object of a verb or preposition. 

In questions, you use whom when asking about a person receiving an action. For example, “Whom did you invite to the party?” or “With whom are you going to the event?” Here, the pronoun whom is connected to the object role of the verbs “invite” and “going.”

When dealing with relative clauses, you also use whom when it serves as the direct object of the clause. For example, “She’s the person whom I recommended for the job,” where “whom” refers to the person being recommended (the direct object).

Remember, using objective pronouns like whom helps maintain clarity and grammatical correctness in your sentences. Develop a habit of determining the role of the pronoun – whether it’s the subject or object in a sentence – to choose the appropriate one, thus improving your overall communication.

Understanding the Differences and Examples

In English grammar, “who” and “whom” are both pronouns used to refer to people. However, they have different functions in a sentence. “Who” is a subject pronoun, performing the action of a verb. 

For instance, in the sentence “Who sent the letter?”, “who” performs the action of sending. On the other hand, “whom” is an object pronoun, receiving the action. For example:

  • Who/whom wrote the essay?
    • He wrote the essay. (Correct choice: “Who”)
  • For who/whom should I vote?
    • I should vote for her. (Correct choice: “Whom”)

In formal or academic writing, it’s essential to use “who” and “whom” correctly, as native English speakers and instructors often expect fluency with these pronouns. However, in informal settings, “who” tends to be more commonly used even when “whom” might be grammatically correct.

Understanding the difference between “who” and “whom” and their roles in clauses can significantly improve your English language skills and make your writing more polished. Practice using these pronouns in various sentences and contexts to build your confidence and knowledge.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the rules for using who and whom correctly?

“Who” is used as a subject, relating to the person performing an action, while “whom” is used as an object, receiving the action of a verb or preposition. A helpful trick is to replace “who” with “he/she” and “whom” with “him/her,” and see which one fits better.

How can I identify when to use who or whom in a sentence?

To identify when to use “who” or “whom” in a sentence, determine if the word is performing an action (use “who”) or if it’s receiving the action (use “whom”). Mentally substitute “who” with “he/she” and “whom” with “him/her” to help make the correct choice.

Can you provide examples of sentences with who and whom?

Certainly! Here’s an example with “who”: Who made this cake? (“Who” is performing the action of making.) And an example with “whom”: To whom should I address this letter? (“Whom” is receiving the action of addressing.)

What are some exercises to practice who versus whom usage?

To practice using “who” and “whom” correctly, try identifying subjects and objects in sentences and replacing them with the appropriate pronouns. Rewrite sentences using “who” or “whom” correctly, and practice creating your own sentences using both pronouns appropriately.

When should I use whoever and whomever?

Use “whoever” when the pronoun acts as the subject (performing an action), and use “whomever” when it acts as an object (receiving the action). Apply the same substitution trick: replace “whoever” with “he/she” and “whomever” with “him/her” to help determine the correct choice.

How does the meaning of a sentence change when using who and whom?

Using “who” and “whom” incorrectly may change the focus of a sentence or create confusion. Misusing these pronouns can make it unclear whether the word in question is performing or receiving an action. Always follow the rules for using “who” and “whom” to ensure clarity and grammatical correctness.