When it comes to misunderstood words, the award for Most Confusing Pronouns definitely goes to who vs. whom.

Although they are the bane of both native and non-native English writers who believe that whom is simply an archaic and out-of-fashion form of who, both words do have their grammatically correct place in the English language.

To understand the difference between who vs. whom, you must first understand the difference between the subject and object of a sentence. The subject is the person a sentence is about or the person completing an action. When referring to the subject of a sentence, use the pronoun who. Here are some examples:

 

Who is going to the cottage with us?

Who is the best wizard at Hogwarts?

Who brought the puppy to work?

 

In these sentences, who is the subject, because who is completing the actions (i.e., going to the cottage, being the best wizard, and bringing the puppy). Any person's name could be filled in here (e.g., Daphne is going to the cottage, or Kevin is the best wizard), and this person is the sentence's subject, making who the appropriate interrogative pronoun to use in this context.

The object of a sentence is the person to whom the actions of the verb are being done (or, to put it another way, the person receiving the actions of the verb):

 

Whom did she invite?

Whom do you love?

Whom are you going to beat in the dance-off?

 

In this context, whom can be substituted with the person receiving the action (e.g., she invited Joey to the party, or I love my mom).

Occasionally, the prepositions fortobywith, and about may need to be used with whom to ensure the sentence makes sense:

 

With whom are you going to the pub?

For whom are you making these cupcakes?

This was painted by whom?

 

A quick way to decide between who vs. whom is to learn the following rule:

If a question can be answered with him, the pronoun whom is correct—just remember that both words end with an -m!

 

To whom are you singing?

I'm singing to him.

 

If the question can be answered with he, the pronoun who is correct—here, remember that both these words end with a vowel.

 

Who went to the dog park?

He went to the dog park.

 

"But what if a woman is performing an action?" you ask.

First, way to be vigilant about calling out gender inequality.

Second, no need to worry! This mnemonic device simply utilizes the male pronouns him and he to help you determine whether to use who vs. whom. Once you know which word to use in the question, you can substitute the appropriate pronoun in the answer.

Just remember this quick trick, and you'll never have trouble deciding between who vs. whom again. If you need more help understanding pronouns, check out Scribendi's article about pronouns, or consider one of our editing services to make sure you're using who and whom correctly.

Image Source: Andy Chilton/Stocksnap.io


Commonly Confused Words


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