Who and whom

Who and whom

“Whom” is not the deluxe version of “who”, as many people think. If you are unsure about whether it is right to use it, it is safest not to. Some writers and publications have dropped the use of “whom” altogether, thinking it old-fashioned. However, we prefer to use it, because it is correct and still regarded as indispensable by many people.

The rule is very simple: “who” changes to “whom” when it is the object of its own clause (or part of the sentence). It’s easiest when the sentence contains only one clause: “Whom should I trust?” I am doing the trusting, so I am the subject. “Whom” is standing in for the person receiving the trust, so it is the object.

Both these sentences are correct:

  • I liked the man who met us.
  • I liked the man whom we met.

In both examples, the subject of the overall sentence is “I”, the verb is “liked”, the object is “the man”, and the man is described by a clause containing the verb “to meet”. It is this describing clause that decides whether we use “who” or “whom”. In the first example, the man met us. He is the subject of the clause, so the word “who” stands in for him. In the second example, we met the man. We are the subject of the clause, and the man is the object, so the word “whom” stands in for him.

You should also use “whom” after a preposition: to, for, by, with, after, and so on:

  • For whom is it intended?
  • By whom was it sent?
  • With whom did you arrive?
  • In whom should I confide?

Never write “whom’s” – the possessive is always “whose”, as in “Whose responsibility is it?”



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