Commonly Confused Words: Who vs. Whom
As a child in middle school, I remember struggling when I wanted to understand how to correctly use who vs. whom. My heart was broken every time I got an essay back with a big red circle around whom. Still, I was determined to use the terms correctly, so I kept trying. It took some time to understand the differences, but now that I do, I want to share a few secrets I have collected about how to use who or whom in sentences. Read on to discover some who vs. whom examples that can help you in your writing.
Who vs. Whom at a Glance
Almost everyone struggles with understanding when to use who vs. whom in their writing, even long-time English speakers or active bloggers with millions of followers. The secret is the word placement in a sentence.
* Who is a pronoun, but it is a subjective pronoun. Who refers to a verb as the subject in a sentence and is the action mover or achiever.
* Whom is also a pronoun, but it is an objective pronoun. Whom replaces the object in a sentence, which means whom receives the sentence’s action.
* Exception: Use whom at the beginning of your sentence or compound clause if it is after a preposition or if it is a part of formal writing.
What’s the Difference Between Who or Whom?
Believe it or not, the easy answer about when to use who vs. whom is their placement in a sentence. If you take a sentence apart, the subject could be “he,” “she” or “I,” and the object could be “him,” “her” or “me.” Since who is a subjective pronoun and whom is an objective pronoun, try replacing the “I,” “me,” “he,” “she,” “him” or “her” in your sentence to find the correct word. Who replaces “he,” “she” or “I,” and whom replaces “him,” “her” or “me.”
There is an exception to the rule that states you should use whom after a preposition or to differentiate formal and informal speech.
When To Use Who
Who refers to or replaces the subject of a sentence and is often the first word in a question. You may have to rearrange the sentence structure to find the subject, but you will become a pro after a few attempts.
Examples of using who in a sentence:
- Andrea is the one who wants to leave the noisy party. (She wants to leave.)
- Who set the alarm clock to go off at midnight? (He or she set the alarm.)
- I need to know who made these delicious brownies. (He or she made the brownies.)
When To Use Whom
Whom refers to or replaces the verb’s object in a sentence. You will need to rearrange the sentence structure to find the object, then replacing it will be easy.
Examples of using whom in a sentence:
- The letter began, “To whom it may concern.” (The letter concerns him or her.)
- Whom do you want to see win the Oscar nomination? (You want to see him or her.)
- Angel saw a man bent over a flower bed whom she presumed owned the home. (Angel presumed it was him, the homeowner.)
The Exception to the Rule About Using Who or Whom
The exception to the rule about when to use who or whom states that whom is used after a preposition in a sentence. Common prepositions include “with,” “against,” “among,” “behind,” “near” and “on.” The exception also applies to using whom to differentiate formal and informal speech in sentences.
Example of the exception to the rule using who or whom:
- The team was disorganized, so it was difficult to determine against whom she was playing. (Against is a preposition.)
- Samantha wasn’t sure with whom she would ride to the concert. (With is a preposition.)
- To whom do you wish to speak? (Formal sentence)
- Who do you want to speak to? (Informal sentence)
Using Who vs. Whom – They Are Commonly Confused
If you are still confused, even with all the who vs. whom examples, I have a secret you can use to distinguish between the two words in your writing. If you can replace who with he or she in your sentence and it makes sense, use who. If the sentence only makes sense when you replace the word who or whom with him or her, then use whom.
Yes, knowing when to use who vs. whom can be confusing, but these examples and hints should help you clarify their placement in your writing. If you have any other words or phrases that confuse you, let us know. Just comment below, and we will be glad to help!