The Difference Between Who and Whom

Album Cover: Diamond Hoo Ha

"I got to get you in my suitcase."
Supergrass / Diamond Hoo Ha Man

Posted on October 11, 2004 1:19 PM in Blathery
Warning: This blog entry was written two or more years ago. Therefore, it may contain broken links, out-dated or misleading content, or information that is just plain wrong. Please read on with caution.

I remember learning in one of my high school English classes that the right time to use the word "whom" is when the person you're talking or asking about is having something done to them. I've always followed that rule, but for the most part that just meant using "who" a majority of the time.

Rather than being unsure and hesitant when speaking, I'd like to be as decisive as I can be, so today I decided to go out looking on the Web to find out when it's right to use "whom" vs. "who." I very quickly found who/whom among a whole slew of other related sites. I think the site does a very good job of getting to the point very quickly:

"Who" is the subject form of this pronoun and "whom" is the object form.

So, basically, what I was taught was right. I should give thanks to who taught me, because thanks are in order from those whom he taught. As weird as that may sound, it's proper English ;)

What I find most interesting, though, about the resource in question, is the idea it poses about the slow death of the word "whom" in the English language. In some respects, this falls right in line with what I mentioned earlier: my hesitance to use the word "whom" even when I was fairly certain of its correct usage.

If you, like me, are determined to keep the word alive, however, you might be best off using the "he or him" test mentioned at who/whom:

Try rewriting the sentence using "he" or "him." Clearly "He bribed he" is incorrect; you would say "he bribed him." Where "him" is the proper word in the paraphrased sentence, use "whom."

Sounds like a good rule of thumb.

Comments

Neil on October 20, 2004 at 10:54 AM:

The problem would be easily resolvable in German by recognising whether 'who' is:
nominative (ie subject) > WER, eg wer ist George Bush eigentlich (who is George B. actually)
accusative (ie object) > WEN, eg für wen ist George Bush eigentlich(who is George B. actually for?) or
dative (ie to/from) > WEM, eg von wem hat George Bush Geld gekriegt? (whom did George B. get money from?)
The english language has just had the grammar removed over the years, but the roots are clear to see in German

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David on October 23, 2004 at 2:11 AM:

Whom should I say is calling?
Him should I say is calling?
He should I say is calling?
Hmm.
Thanks for the interesting stuff.

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Bernie Zimmermann on October 24, 2004 at 6:58 PM:

Neil, thanks for pointing that out – just makes me wish I would have taken a few more years of German.

David, the "he vs. him" rule obviously doesn't always apply, as you've very simply pointed out. However, using the other knowledge provided here and elsewhere, it remains fairly evident that "who" is the option to be used that particular example. Come to think of it, if you rework the sentence a bit, this seems to hold true:

"Should I say he/him is calling?"

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Amine on January 31, 2005 at 2:38 PM:

Thanks for this rule. Because, before I read this note( or rather Those notes), I couldn't see the difference between "whom" and "who". For me, "whom" was a old world who is the "grand-father" of "who"!!

So I repeat , THANKS!!

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alvina renea cook on February 01, 2005 at 9:15 PM:

uh yeah ok i have a report thats y im here thank alot for ur help

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amanda bree cook on February 04, 2005 at 8:43 AM:

i love billy

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Jake on June 05, 2005 at 10:05 AM:

Thanks for the help, I was lost before you pointed that out. It actually makes a great deal of sense now that it's been explained.

-Jake

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Karin on February 05, 2006 at 9:17 PM:

The way I remember it is through taking French. It's probably true with any language. But in French, Qui = who and que = whom. If a subject follows the who/whom, it's whom, if a verb follows, it's who. For whom the bell tolls is a way to remember which way it goes. Also, you can remember Who is calling?

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Anna on July 27, 2006 at 8:01 AM:

This reminds me of the rule I was taught regarding the proper use of "I" or "me" when you're saying "Holly and I" or "Holly and me". The rule is to take out the other person and see if "I" or "me" would be correct.

So, for instance, you'd say
"I am going to the store"
so
"Holly and I are going to the store" is correct.

However, in the case of
"Do you want to come to the store with me?"
the correct usage is
"Do you want to come to the store with Holly and me?"

Most people would say "Holly and I" in the second example, because that usage has been drummed into them.

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Leanne on February 12, 2007 at 2:16 PM:

Karin puts it best. I was trying to figure out how to explain it, in the easiest way, to my students: Use whom if the subject follows the who/whom, and who if the verb follows the who/whom.

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Ezra Davies on October 14, 2007 at 5:15 AM:

I thought I understood this until I found this example: "No one knows who you are!". This is correct, I am told. But I would put "You are him" not "You are he!" So why not put "No one knows whom you are"?

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