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What is the Difference Between Who and Whom?

'Whom' can replace the direct object of a sentence (to whom, for whom, etc.), but should never be used to replace the subject.
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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 01 August 2014
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English speakers live in a subject-object universe, which is an important thing to remember when dealing with pronouns such as "who" and "whom." In order to use these two words properly in a sentence, speakers need to know the difference between a subject and a direct object. "Who" usually takes the place of a subject, otherwise known as the nominative case. "Whom" generally replaces the direct object, also known as the accusative case.

A standard English sentence tends to follow a subject-verb-object pattern, although there are always variations. The subject either does something to the direct object, or else the subject just is the predicate nominative. In the sentence "I left class early today," the subject is "I." If a speaker wanted to turn that sentence into a question, he would use the subject form: "Who left class early today?" This word always replaces a noun acting as a subject or predicate nominative, as in "Someone as honest as Bill Johnson is who we need in office." While the actual subject may be "someone," the predicate nominative that matches "someone" is who. When the verb is considered intransitive, meaning it doesn't carry its action over to a direct object, then "who" is the proper pronoun to use.

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On the object side of the sentence, however, things change. In the sentence "The teacher sent Alvin to the Principal's office," Alvin is the direct object or recipient of the action. A question formed from that sentence would read "Whom did the teacher send to the Principal's office?" This pronoun is the proper substitute for a noun being used as a direct object. "Whom shall I send?" could be reworked as "I shall send whom?" which might make the subject-verb-direct object relationship clearer. This term will never be used as the subject of a sentence, and "Who" will never be used in place of a direct object.

When in doubt, speakers or writers can use a quick substitution to decide between these terms. By substituting "I" or "me," the speaker should be able to hear which pronoun sounds more correct. "Who took the last cookie?" should sound better as "I took the cookie." than "Me took the cookie." In the same way, a question such as "Kelly Smith invited me to the prom," should be rendered as "Whom did Kelly Smith invite to the prom?" instead of "Who did Kelly Smith invite to the prom?" Subjects are matched with subjects, and direct objects are matched with direct objects.

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Discuss this Article

anon332831
Post 35

Please answer this question:

The boy ___ you met yesterday is my best friend.

1)who 2)whom 3)that 4)all choices

anon272400
Post 33

Which is correct? "Share it with your friends whom love Lucy" or "Share it with your friends who love Lucy."

anon237843
Post 31

The "I" and "me" trick will help greatly. Thanks!

smartfellow
Post 30

"Who do you think is going to win tomorrow? England or France?"

or: "Whom do you think is going to win tomorrow? England or France?"

Which one is appropriate? Please advise. Thank you.

anon138426
Post 25

I have trouble with grammar. can someone help me with these sentences?

1) He was also said to have been interrogated by the Roman Emperor Claudius II, (who/Whom) tried to convert him to Roman paganism.

2) this card was given to his love, the jailer's daughter, (who/whom) he had befriended.

3) ...and toast the Christian martyr (who/whom) was persecuted so long ago.

Thanks!

anon131047
Post 24

I have a sentence in which I do not know if I should use who/whom. Can anyone help?

The squad must also think about 'who' they really are.

The squad must also think about 'whom' they really are.

Thanks!

amypollick
Post 23

@Anon102582: "Whom I missed" would be correct, since "whom" refers to "people."

Please permit my English major to rear her grammarian head to suggest a better wording for this sentence: "Tomorrow, I will have the pleasure of seeing some people whom I missed."

anon102582
Post 22

Would it be "I have the pleasure of seeing some people whom I missed tomorrow."

or

"I have the pleasure of seeing some people who I missed tomorrow"?

anon97691
Post 21

to 19: I do believe that should be "Dana, /who/ is dynamic".

anon70492
Post 19

Dana, whom is dynamic, shows confidence and creativity in the classroom Does anyone know if this sentence should be used with who or whom?

anon69052
Post 18

i think the easiest way to learn this rule is by thinking of how one would answer the question.

For example:

"To whom do you wish to speak?"

I wish to speak to *him*. (When you use him/her/them, then the question would have "whom," not "who.")

On the other hand,

"Who went to the party last weekend?

*He* did. (When you are able to use "he, she, they, then "who" should be used in the question, rather than "whom.")

hope this helps!

anon58246
Post 16

"Whom do I invite" would be proper.

The person receiving your invitation would be the direct object.

anon56908
Post 15

@anon55412: Those are both wrong. The subject is "you" and the verb is "beaten". You are beaten. Secondly, you should not end a sentence with a preposition. The proper way to say it is:

"By whom were you beaten?"

Try the Me/I test if you can't understand it.

anon56187
Post 14

So, do you say, 'Who left the class early today', or 'whom left the class early today'?

Do you say, "Who do I invite?" or "Whom do I invite?"

Do you say, this is probably the hardest thing I've ever done.

anon55412
Post 13

In a nutshell - Who is used when the action is being done by noun being replaced. Whom is receiving the action from the direct object.

Whom do you love the most?

...respect him for who he is.

...who fills my heart with joy.

The proper way to ask the question is "Who were you beaten by," not "You were beaten by who?" You is the direct object, who is the noun, not a recipient of an action.

anon53915
Post 12

Huh. Helpful, but I don't know if I should use "whom" in the question "Who do you love most?"

anon51141
Post 11

in the sentence "You will look back and be glad you respect him for ____ he is." in the blank do you use who or whom?

thanks

anon50246
Post 10

Hello to you who fills my heart with joy?/or whom?

anon48273
Post 9

"the girls, who didn't want to go, set out on their journey" is right because 'girls' is main subject here.

anon42893
Post 8

What about "by"? You were beaten by "whom"? or

You were beaten by "who"?

anon42475
Post 7

anon35859--If you actually read the article, the answer to your question will be obvious.

anon35859
Post 6

what is correct?

he sent the letter to who?

he sent the letter to whom?

anon30377
Post 5

Erm, anon29136:

How can 'several' represent the girls? And in what way is "of who" a possessive?

The correct answer is:

The girls, several of which did not want to go, set off on their journey.

anon29136
Post 4

I would say the answer to the question would be "several of whom...". Ordinarily, the pronoun would take the case of the noun it replaces, so if the sentence had been "The girls, who did not want to go at first, set out on their journey", all would be well.

The additional of "of", however, changes things. The word "several" is now the substitute for "girls", and the "of who" is a possessive of "several".

anon27771
Post 3

Hi, could you please tell me which one of the sentences below is the correct one to use? Thank you lots.

"The girls, several of *whom* did not want to go, set out on their journey."

"The girls, several of *who* did not want to go, set out on their journey."

anon10211
Post 1

Wow. That is very confusing but very interesting. I have never known the difference!

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