Whilst who and whom are often used interchangeably in everyday speech, there is a real grammatical distinction. Whether it matters anymore is dependent on how formal or grammatically correct you want to be.
‘Who’ refers to the subject of a sentence, the person doing something, and ‘whom’ to the object of a sentence, the person on the receiving end of an action.
Who and whom are some of the most often confused words in the English language.
Many people already consider ‘whom’ to be an archaic and disused form, or expect it to fall out of use in the near future. There are no longer separate subject and object forms of several other pronouns, e.g. ‘it’, or ‘you’. ‘Who’ may well go the same way one day.
As a native English speaker myself, I would say that I rarely hear people use the word whom in speech, they just use who in all cases. Whom is a bit more important/used when writing, particularly if we are talking about the more highbrow newspapers.
When to Use ‘Who’
‘Who’ is a pronoun which can be used as the subject of a verb. In grammar, the subject of a sentence is the person or thing doing the verb’s action.
Some English pronouns have the same form whether they are the subject or the object of a sentence, for example, ‘you’ or ‘it’.
Others, including ‘who’ have two different forms. I, he, she, we and they fall into this category, becoming me, him, her, us and them when they are the object of a sentence.
So, a correct use could be: “Who saw that woman with the big red hat?”
When to Use ‘Whom’
As with I, he, she, we and they, who switches to another form when used as the object in a sentence, becoming ‘whom’.
The object of a sentence is the person or thing on the receiving end of a verb’s action.
A correct use of whom could be: “I recognized the woman in the big red hat, whom we saw in town yesterday.”
More Examples of ‘Who’ in a Sentence
- Who opened the window?
- The man who opened the window was feeling very hot.
- I know who opened the window because I was sitting nearby.
More Examples of ‘Whom’ in a Sentence
- The man whom Rebecca saw was wearing a long, thick winter coat in August.
- To whom should I address the party invitation?
- There were five men in the room, one of whom spoke fluent German.
How to Remember the Difference Between ‘Who’ vs ‘Whom’
You can use this useful little mnemonic, or memory trick, to tell when to use who or whom.
The word ‘whom’ ends in ‘m’, just like the words ‘him’ or ‘them’. Imagine replacing ‘whom’ in the sentence with ‘him’ or ‘them’. If it makes sense then ‘whom’ is correct. If it doesn’t make sense, but would make sense with ‘he’ or ‘they, then use ‘who’ instead.
Try this on the examples above to see how this looks in practice.
Test Yourself on ‘Who’ vs ‘Whom’ with these Sentences (fill in the blanks)
Ready to test your understanding on when to use who vs whom?
- The TV show contestant ____ won the $1 million prize knew the answers to every question.
- Unfortunately, the teacher ____ Jenny liked took a new job in a different state this year.
- _____ is attending the big game on Saturday?
- _____ can we trust with such a big responsibility?
A Final Word…
After reading this article, I hope that you’re feeling more confident about when to use who vs whom. As I mentioned earlier, getting it right may be less important with who vs whom than with some other grammatical issues.