Most of my previous “Its Time to Improve You’re Grammar” blog posts have focused on misused and abused homophones. This time around, I’ll attempt to explain the difference between who and whom so you’ll proudly use these words with more confidence.
Sometimes, even I get tripped up by this one! That’s why I keep a handy reference book or two available. (Notice I said book, not bookmarked website.) Like you, I loathe being lost in the Minotaur’s maze (aka labyrinth) of proper grammar usage. If I haven’t yet scared you away, let’s dissect the “who versus whom” conundrum…
They’re Both Pronouns, But Who Cares, and to Whom Should I Send My Regards?: It’s best to start at the beginning – who and whom are both pronouns, meaning they are words that represent nouns (people, places, or things). In this case, who and whom represent people.
(Does anyone remember the Charlton Heston movie Soylent Green? No pronouns here, but the movie ended with this famous people reference…) Nowadays, most of us don’t bother with the word whom, but from a grammatical perspective, you should still use it.
Who refers to the subject in a sentence (the person doing something in a sentence or clause). Whom refers to the object in a sentence (something is being done to somebody in the sentence or clause). For example, in the sentence “I never liked my 4th grade French teacher,” I is the subject, and my unappreciated teacher is the object. And yes, my 4th grade French teacher was tres folle.
The “Who vs. Whom” Secret Sauce IS People…: Here’s the “cheat” many grammar nerds use to remember when to use who and when to use whom. Are you ready? The two words both ask a question, so the solution is determined by how you answer the question.
If you can answer the question with he (or she), then you should use who in your question/sentence. If you can answer the question with him (or her), then use whom. Additionally, whom and him both end with an “m,” another clue that should point you toward whom.
Snappy Sentences Using Who Correctly:
- Who is your favorite author in the whole wide world? (Without a doubt, Edith Wharton is my favorite – SHE is my…)
- “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?” (The Shadow knows – HE knows!)
- “Who wants to be a millionaire?” (HE wants to be one, and SHE wants to be one too.)
More Snappy Sentences Using Whom Correctly:
- To whom should I give the bill for your five-course gourmet dinner? (Please give it to HIM; I left my wallet at home. Honest!)
- “If there’s somethin’ strange in your neighborhood, whom ya gonna call?” (Before you say Ghostbusters, the correct answer is also “I’m gonna call THEM,” which is the plural of HIM.)
- For whom does that iconic bell toll? (Um, it tolls for HIM or HER, but according to long-dead poet John Donne, it tolls for thee.)
(For a more detailed explanation of the “who versus whom” challenge, please enjoy another entertaining lesson from Grammar Girl.)
This grammar lesson has reached its logical (and playful) conclusion. Are you feeling better now about your understanding of the difference between who and whom? Be honest – did my blog post help you or confuse you even further? Just remember my example regarding Ernest Hemingway’s book (For whom the bell tolls… it tolls for HIM.) and you’ll be fine. I promise.
Lori Shapiro is the owner of By All Writes LLC, a business writing, editing, and research company in Marlton, New Jersey. She revels in shielding her clients from the pain of writing their own print and web marketing copy. Call her (856-810-9764) or email her (firstname.lastname@example.org) for a no-obligation project quote today!