Who v. Whom

This is a tricky one, even for editors! There has been talk for years about whom being dropped from the language, in part because so few people actually understand how to use it. Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) even says, at the entry for whom, “Observers of the language have been predicting the demise of whom from about 1870 down to the present day [one of the pronoun cases is visibly disappearing–the objective case whom–R. G. White – 1870] [whom is dying out in England, where ‘Whom did you see?’ sounds affected–Anthony Burgess – 1980]. Our evidence shows that no one–English or not–should expect whom to disappear momentarily; it shows every indication of persisting quite a while yet.” I have, in fact, actually heard more people trying to use whom in speech lately. Unfortunately, they’re only using it correctly about 50 percent of the time. 

Who is a pronoun that stands in for the subject (the person taking action) in a sentence.

Whom is also a pronoun, but it stands in for the object (the person having something done to him or her) of a verb or of a preceding or following preposition in a sentence. 

Examples:

  • I wonder who is going to get married next. (In this case, there are two subjects in the sentence. I is a subject taking the action of wondering, but who is also taking action–getting married–thus we use who instead of whom.)
  • I hope he knows whom she has been kissing. (In this sentence, there are again two subjects, and she, taking action. The subject I is taking the action of hoping, while the subject she has taken the action of kissing. In this case, we use whom rather than who because the person for whom the pronoun whom is standing in is the receiver, or object, of the subject’s [she] action of kissing.)
  • To whom did you give the extra movie tickets? (In this case, whom is the object of the preposition “to”. Common prepositions: about, above, across, after, against, alongside, around, as, at, before, below, beneath, between, by, despite, down, except, for, from, in, inside, like, of, off, on, onto, opposite, plus, since, through, throughout, to, toward, underneath, until, up, with, without.)
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Published in: on February 1, 2009 at 3:38 am  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Great advice! As a PR student at Chico State, people don’t often think of us as editors. And the truth is that the less people know about PR, the better we’re doing our job. But editing is a huge part of our job. Once a consumer sees a misspelled word or misplaced comma, your client’s credibilty has gone down the drain.
    Editing is not just for Journalism practitioners or word nerds, though. It’s a crucial skill for everyone who writes anything to have. Think about it.. No matter what you do for a living, you write. Even if it’s just an e-mail within the office, you want to get those commas correct, or face the possibility of being the brunt of jokes around the water cooler.

    • I could not agree more! Now if we could just convince everyone else so that they would hire us to make them look smarter…

  2. Thank you for writing this! I love writing, but I’ve never really understood who v. whom, and all this “subject and object and predicate,” is totally Greek to me. I decided to Google it to try to find a cheat sheet of sorts, and your article makes the most sense out of anything I’ve seen. Cheers!


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