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Who versus Whom

Writer's Digest Book Shipment

Writer’s Digest Book Shipment (Photo credit: AngelaShupe.com)

This is taken from the Writers Digest, September 25, 2012 and written by Brian A. Klems

The confusion between who and whom is one of the most common problems writers face. It can be tricky to find the correct use, and sometimes you may feel like locating the person who invented both words and smacking him upside his head. But there is a difference.

Who is used as the subject of a verb or complement of a linking verb. It’s a nominative pronoun. It was Carl who broke all the pencils in the house. When writing a sentence, first find the verb(s)—was and broke. Then, find the subject for each verb: Carl and who. Since who is a subject, it’s correct. Who needs a crayon to write this down?

Whom is used as the object of the verb or the object of a preposition. It’s an objective pronoun. You asked whom to the dance? In this case, the subject and verb are “You asked.” The pronoun following the verb is the object of the verb, therefore whom is correct. He’s already going to the prom with whom? This pronoun is the object of the preposition with, so whom is the right pick. Be careful, though. Make sure the prepositional pronoun in question isn’t also a subject—if it is, then you use who. For example, I cheered for who played hardest. While the pronoun follows a preposition (for), it’s also the subject of the second verb (played). When placed as a subject, always use who.

One way to remember is to check to see which pronoun can replace the questionable word. It’s a little trick I learned back in elementary school: If it can be replaced with “he,” you use who; if “him” fits better, use whom. Sometimes you may need to split the sentence to see it. For example, It was Carl—he broke all the pencils in the house. Who should be used here. You asked him to the dance? Whom is the correct choice.

And when in doubt on the “who whom” debacle, recast the sentence to avoid the issue altogether


5 comments on “Who versus Whom

  1. yellowlancer
    September 28, 2012

    I love those little primary/elementary school tricks. I certainly didn’t realise way back then how often they would come back to me in later years 🙂


    • Judy
      September 28, 2012

      I don’t remember that one from school about substituting who for him. I must not have been paying attention that day 🙂


      • yellowlancer
        September 28, 2012

        I think I had a lot of days when I didn’t pay enough attention but a few bits and pieces come back when I need them. I could neverunderstand why our teachers made us take a paragraph and shorten it to a few words etc – now, of course, I know how important it is for editing so even though I found it very boring back then, I’m sure it’s helped me a lot in getting my stories ready for publication.


  2. Andrea Kelly
    September 30, 2012

    That is a fantastic trick! Love it! Thanks so much for passing it on 🙂


  3. The Presents of Presence
    October 2, 2012

    Judy, that’s a great trick he/him! Thank you! 🙂


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