Who is Whom?

October 27, 2009 by  
Filed under Grammar, Mini-Lessons

A student raised his hand in class today and inquired about the use of whom.  He asked if it is one of those words that has fallen out of the English language since he rarely hears it.  I told him, au contraire . . . the word is alive and well – many just don’t know how to use it appropriately.  There is actually a simple little trick for understanding which word to use!:

Who vs. Whom

Who is that behind the mask?

Who is that behind the mask?

Use who (or whoever) when I, he, she, we or they could take its place.

Who and whoever are nominative forms.

Example:

Who is in charge of the redundant meeting? (She is in charge of the redundant meeting.)

Whoever said she couldn’t write?

He said she couldn’t write.

Use whom (or whomever) when me, him, her, us, or them could take its place as a direct object or object of a preposition in the whom clause.

Examples:

For whom is he writing? (He is writing for her.)

I will vote for whomever you recommend. (You recommend him.)

Whom and whomever are objective forms.

  • Winsor Pilates

Comments

6 Responses to “Who is Whom?”
  1. Jane Balvanz says:

    Thanks for the clarification on who and whom. Even though I knew the rules before, continual misuse in the literature made me wonder if the rules were antiquated.

    • GradingGirl says:

      You’re welcome, Jane! Yes, this is one of those confusing pairs of words that we continually misuse. Thank you, by the way, for the insightful advice on parenting on your website.

  2. Dave Peckham says:

    Sorry, but I am still not sure about this. If I write a sentence about identical twins and say, “The only way I could tell who is whom is …” Or is it “who is who” or “whom is whom.”? I think it is “who is whom.” I will appreciate your advice. Thanks. David Peckham

    • GradingGirl says:

      No need to apologize, David. This can be confusing! The correct answer is: “The only way I could tell who is who is. . .”

      The reason for this is simple. “To be” verbs such as “is” act as linking verbs and are always followed by either subject predicates or subject adjectives. They are never followed by pronouns in the objective case except in informal speech. Example: “Hi! It’s me!” However, as right as “It’s me” sounds, the true correct form should be “It is I.” (In essence, the “to be” verbs act as equal signs.)

      All to say, “I can’t tell WHO IS WHO…” is the true, correct usage.

  3. Christopher Atwood says:

    Is it still acceptable to say “Thank whomever made the cake,” since the sentence is using an imperative? Or does “to thank” act similarly to “to be”?

    • GradingGirl says:

      It is the subject of the verb ‘thank’, so it should be ‘whoever’.

      You can test it by exchanging it for ‘the person who’:

      “Thank the person who made the cake”

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