This is possibly the trickiest confusion-causing grammar rule imaginable. So many of us see the two words “whom” and “who” and our eyes begin to cross because we can’t even start trying to figure out the difference between them. I see many people try to sound correct by using “whom” even when they should use “who”! Let’s explore their uses and how to properly put them in a sentence. Here we go—it’s going to be a trip.
“Who” and “whom” are both pronouns, but they refer to different parts of the sentence. “Who” refers to the subject of the sentence, meaning, the noun that the sentence is about. “Whom” refers to the object of the sentence, which means the noun that is having something done to it. So what does that mean? Let’s look at one sentence:
- James punched the green turtle.
Here, James is the noun that is doing something. The sentence is about him and his love of punching. This means that he’s the subject. The poor green turtle is what is having something done to it, and though it’s a part of the sentence, it’s not all about the turtle. This means that the turtle is the object.
So now that we have a better grasp of subject and object, let’s replace the sentence with two containing “who” and “whom.”
- Who is punching the green turtle?
- James is punching whom?
I know, I know, we’re back to punching turtles. But look at how the sentences flow. “Who” has replaced the subject of the sentence, and “whom” has replaced the object.
The easiest trick you can use to remind yourself of which to use and when is to replace the word “who” with “he” in a sentence and see if it makes sense. Likewise, switch “whom” for “him.” It’s easy to remember when you keep in mind that “him” and “whom” both end with the letter M. Let’s replace the words in the previous sentences.
- He is punching the green turtle?
- James is punching him?
Check and check—it totally sounds perfect!
The next problem comes about when we start switching around the order of words in a sentence. This happens because most of the time, we’re used to having a sentence start with “who” regardless of what we’re actually saying. For example:
- Who do I call?
I’m just trying to ask in this sentence: which person should I call to get the information I want? The problem is that the words are arranged to form a question. Let’s rearrange it so the subject is closer to the front:
- Do I call who?
Now let’s replace “who” with “he.”
- Do I call he?
It doesn’t make sense. Let’s try switching to “him.”
- Do I call him?
Yes, that’s much better. The correct word in that case would be “whom.” Let’s see a correct original sentence then:
- Whom do I call?
Perfect. The quick and easy rule of switching the words to check is extremely helpful when double-checking your work. Just like with anything else you do in life, learning the correct rules for writing, and then using them all the time will ensure that it becomes habit and you no longer have to waste time checking over your work with a fine-toothed comb. Good luck!