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Who or whom? A clear, simple answer from a professional grammarian

Jul 28, 2010 By Abraham

John McIntyre edits and writes for the Baltimore Sun, teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland, and is a former president of the American Copy Editors Society. He has this to say regarding the who/whom dilemma:

My advice to you, if you have trouble deciding when to use who and when to use whom, just use who for both subject and object. It will simplify your life, ease your mind, and put you ahead of the game when the dictionaries finally attach obs. to whom.


    1. Abraham Piper says:

      Let me break it down for you… :)

      You never need to use the word whom.

      (Except for in well-established, idiomatic phrases like “To whom it may concern.”)


  1. Chishrink says:

    I heard long ago of a trick that works most of the time in these situations: take out all the words in the sentence through “who/whom,” and make a new sentence with the same general meaning as the original one out of the fragment that’s left using either “he/she” or “him/her” as needed to make it sound right. If you end up using “he/she,” the right form in the original is “who”; if “him/her,” then “whom” is right. To make the new sentence both coherent and similar in meaning to the original, you may have to eliminate words after the “he/she” or “him/her” as well.

    So, “Joe is the man who/whom I want to win” becomes “I want [he/him] to win.” Since “him” is obviously right, the correct form of the original sentence is “Joe is the man whom I want to win.” Similarly, “The woman [who/whom] you spoke with was her sister” becomes “You spoke with was her sister,” which can be made coherent by plugging in “her” and eliminating any following words: “You spoke with her.” Again, since “her” is used, the correct form of the original is “The woman whom you spoke with was her sister.”

    Of course, knowing such a trick doesn’t help in figuring out why bother….

  2. Juan Mendes says:

    This is the same case as “Me and Jane went to the bar”. People learn you should never say “Jane and me” and then say things like “They gave Jane and I a beer” Because they have never learned the real rule.

    Would you teach people to use I/he/she/we/they in the object like the example above? To me that’s the same thing as teaching people to use who in the object.

    It is true that whom may be considered archaic by some but many insist on it. So if you care about what people think of your writing, I would use it “correctly” to avoid problems. Will I think twice when speaking? No. But I’ve learned the rule and sometimes it comes naturally. Other times, I just use who instead of trying to figure out where the subject and object are.

    1. Paul Hunnisett says:

      Just because people wrongly insist on something isn’t a reason to use it. It’s like split infinitives. There’s really no such thing in English grammar – but people get their knickers in a twist about it.

      In the phrase “to boldly go” the infinitive is “go” not “to go”. I would completely agree with anyone unhappy with ” to gboldlyo”.

  3. Someone says:

    Abraham, you should write a post about how to use the word “myself.” People using “myself” incorrectly is one of my biggest pet peeves. To me, “Jane and myself went to the store” sounds like nails scratching down a chalkboard!

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