The Difference between Who and Whom

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Who or whom? So which is which? Do you ever get confused about which word to use when talking to someone or when you’re writing?

The use of “who” and “whom” is one of the most common mistakes that people make in English. Even English speakers don’t care too much if they use who or whom. This is because what is in fact most popularly used in daily conversation is “who”. People consider “whom” too formal and stay away from it. But, there’s actually a correct usage for “who” as well as “whom”.

Here are important things to remember that will help you decide which word to use.

Let’s go back and review one grammar lesson to have a better understanding of the difference between the two.  Let us first understand the difference between SUBJECT and OBJECT. To decide whether to use WHO or WHOM, you have to decide whether you’re looking for a subject or object.

When you use WHO, you’re looking for the subject. It’s the one driving the sentence. In other words, it is performing the action in the sentence.

On the other hand, WHOM is the object. It is not the actor or the doer in the sentence. It instead receives the action. So you then try to identify who the action is falling on.

WHOM

For whom does she light the lamp?

Let’s identify first the verb = light [to light]. This is the action in the sentence.

Now, let’s look for the subject = she [She lights…]

Next, who is receiving the action or the object? This is the “whom” we want to know.

To answer the question, “She lights the lamp for him.”

“Him” is the object of her action. It would be strange to say, “She lights the lamp for he“.

Whom is a relative pronoun. When you talk about an OBJECT in the sentence, the pronouns used are me, him, her, them, us, you, and it.

1) Whom did Jena bring to prom?

-verb: bring

-subject: Jena

-object /whom (?) : the person brought to prom

2) Whom did Mr. Smith hire at the office?

– verb: hire (to hire)

– subject: Mr. Smith

– object / whom (?) : the person hired

3) Whom did they vote?

– verb: vote

– subject: they

– object / whom (?): the person they voted

WHO

Who lights the lamp every night?

Let’s identify the verb here = lights [to light]

Now, let’s identify the subject or actor. This is the “who” we want to know.

So, since you’re looking for the central element in the sentence, which is the doer, you don’t say “whom lights the lamp?” Try to turn the question into a statement and see if it makes sense:

He lights the lamp every night. OR

Him lights the lamp every night.

It wouldn’t make any sense if we say “Him lights the lamp every night.”

“Who” is a relative pronoun. You use it if you want to know about the SUBJECT or person that does an action. The subject is the DOER or the one performing or doing something. The pronouns used are I, he, she, we, they, you, and it.

1) Who baked the cake?

– verb: bake

– subject/doer: the person who baked the cake

2) Who arrived late?

– verb: arrive

– subject/doer: the person who arrived late

3) Who is laughing so loud?

– verb: laugh

– subject/doer: the person who is laughing out loud

We also use “WHO” to know which person is a certain way.

4) Who is taller?

– adjective: taller [tall]

– subject: who has this quality?

TIPS to REMEMBER:

  1. WHO and WHOM are relative pronouns. Pronouns mean they take the place of a noun. We use these when we want to know more about people—and not about objects or places. We use these in questions, as well as statements.
  1. The M trick will help you decide whether you should use “who” or whom”.

“Him” and “whom” both have “m” so you know you’re using the right word. “Whom” and “him” function the same way in the sentence. They both refer to the OBJECT. Whom goes with him as there’s an M at the end.

Q: Whom did he walk with?

A: He walked with him.

On the other hand, who goes with he as there’s no M at the end. They also function the same way in the sentence. They are both the SUBJECT.

Q: Who just walked in the door?

A: He just walked in the door.

  1. Try to answer the question and see which answer makes sense.

-Who loves dogs?

-Whom loves dogs?

He loves dogs!

So the correct one is “Who loves dogs?”.

-She buys milk from who?

-She buys milk from whom?

She buys milk from him.

So the correct one is “She buys milk from whom?”.

  1. Object pronoun is always used after a preposition. Prepositions are words like for, with, to, from, around, between, without, etc. Object pronouns are me, him, her, them, us, you, and it.

-Ben can’t live without whom?

Ben can’t seem to live without her (or Hanna).

With whom is Sherry not happy?

Sherry is not happy with him (or Lester).

-Nothing is going on between whom?

Nothing is going on between them.

From whom was the package?

The package was from him.

Before I end this discussion, let me introduce to you another relative pronoun which is commonly used, but less confusing. It’s the word “whose”. It is a possessive pronoun similar to his, hers, ours, theirs, and its. And as the name suggests, it is used to express ownership, possession, or belonging. You can ask questions like:

Whose car is that?

It’s hers.

Whose house is that?

It’s theirs.

You may use it in statements like:

Carrie is talking to her friend whose husband was promoted this morning.

Peter is drinking with a friend whose wife passed away last week.

The detective is investigating to find out whose hair strand was left on the table.

I hope that this article makes it a little bit clearer the next time you need to decide whether to use who or whom. In a nutshell, WHO will tell you about the subject or doer of the action, while WHOM will tell you about the object or receiver of the action. In addition, WHOSE will tell you who owns something. It also talks about possession or ownership.


Author
I have a passion for the English language because it is such a powerful tool for creativity and personal development. I've been writing articles since I was in High School. I represented my school in English writing competitions in the city, regional, and national levels. When I was in college, I wrote a short story which was published in the University Literary Portfolio. In 2006, I worked as a call center agent in Cebu City. In 2007 up to 2008, I worked as an English accent trainer in a startup call center company. I have also been offering ESL lessons as a freelance tutor since February 2016.