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Should I Use Who or Whom?

Should I Use Who or Whom?

One very confusing area of the English language, for both native and non-native speakers, is when to use ‘who’ and when to use ‘whom’.

These words are both relative pronouns, and people often find themselves misusing these words, which is rather silly as the correct way to use them is actually quite easy to learn!

Simply put, ‘who’ is used if the word can be replaced by ‘he’ or ‘she’.

Whereas, ‘whom’ is used if the word can be replaced by ‘her’ or ‘him’.

Still confused? Let’s look at who and whom in action.

Who

My friend Amy, who recently moved to London, is coming to visit this weekend. Look at the clause containing who from this sentence:

who recently moved to London You will notice that we can replace the word who with the pronoun she and the clause will still make sense:

she recently moved to London”

That means we were correct to use who in this sentence.

Replacing who with her would not make sense:

her recently moved to London”

So to have used whom would have made this an incorrect sentence.

Whom

She approached the man whom she hoped to marry.

In this sentence, the word whom can be replaced by the word him:

  • She approached the man. She hoped to marry him.

The word whom can not be replaced by the word he in this sentence:

  • She approached the man. She hoped to marry he.
  • She approached the man he she hoped to marry.

Therefore, it was correct to use whom in this sentence.

WHO is the subject and WHOM is the object

Another very easy way to decide whether you should be using ‘who’ or ‘whom’ is to think of ‘who’ as the subject and ‘whom’ as the object.

Therefore, ‘who‘ refers to the person that is doing something in the sentence and ‘whom‘ refers to the person that is having something done to them.

Let’s look at our example sentences from above again.

My friend Amy, who recently moved to London, is coming to visit this weekend.

Amy is the subject in this sentence – she is the person who moved to London and the person who is coming to visit. Therefore, it is correct to use who to refer to Amy.

She approached the man whom she hoped to marry.

In this sentence, ‘she’ is the subject as she is doing something – approaching the man. The man in this sentence is the object (the person having something done to them).

The thing being done to the man is that the woman is approaching him. Therefore, it is correct to use whom to refer to the man.

Practice

Let’s test these new theories. Use whichever of these approaches you feel most comfortable with
but try to remember both. That way, if one doesn’t seem to work, you can try the other method.

Read these sentences and decide if the missing word should be who or whom. Then, check the answers below.

Who or Whom?

“I don’t know ________ gave that to him,” his mother said.
They are not sure ___________ won the race.
She saw a person __________ she presumed worked at the shop.
______________ do you think they will vote for in the school council elections?
He is the one ___________ upset her.
_____________ took the cake out of the bag?

Answers

“I don’t know who gave that to him,” his mother said.

In this sentence, the subject (the person doing something) is ‘who’. This person has given something to the object of the sentence (him). Therefore, it is correct to use who in this sentence.

Also, you could replace ‘who’ with ‘he’ or ‘she’, e.g. ‘he gave that to him’ or ‘she gave that to him’. However, you cannot say ‘her gave that to him’ or ‘him gave that to him’.

They are not sure who won the race.

In this sentence, the subject (the person doing something) is ‘who’. This person has won the race. The object of this sentence is ‘the race’ (the object of a sentence can be a person, place or thing). Therefore, it is correct to use who in this sentence.

Also, you could replace who with he or she, e.g. ‘he won the race’ or ‘she won the race’. However,
you cannot say ‘her won the race’ or ‘him won the race’.

She saw a person whom she presumed worked at the shop.

In this sentence, the subject (the person doing something) is ‘she’. The subject has seen the object of the sentence (‘whom’). Therefore, it is correct to use whom in this sentence.

Also, you could replace whom with him or her, e.g. ‘She saw him’ or ‘She saw her’. However, you cannot say ‘She saw he’ or ‘She saw she’.

Whom do you think they will vote for in the school council elections?

In this sentence, the subject (the person doing something) is ‘they’. These people are voting for someone – the object of the sentence (‘whom’). Therefore, it is correct to use whom in this sentence.

Also, you could replace whom with him or her, e.g. ‘They will vote for him’ or ‘They will vote for her’. However, you cannot say ‘They will vote for he’ or ‘They will vote for she’.

He is the one who upset her.

In this sentence, the subject (the person doing something) is ‘who’. This person has upset the object of the sentence ‘her’.

Therefore, it is correct to use who in this sentence. Also, you could replace who with he, e.g. ‘he upset her’ However, you cannot say ‘him upset her’.

Who took the cake out of the bag?

In this sentence, the subject (the person doing something) is ‘who’. This person has taken the cake
out of a bag. The object of this sentence is ‘the cake’.

Therefore, it is correct to use who in this sentence. Also, you could replace who with he or she, e.g. ‘he took the cake out of the bag’ or ‘she took the cake out of the bag’. However, you cannot say ‘her took the cake out of the bag’ or ‘him took the cake out of the bag’.

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