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Who and Whom

The Quick Answer
What is the difference between who and whom?

Who is like he because it is used as the subject of a verb. For example:
  • Who likes milk in tea?
  • (Compare this with "He likes milk in tea.")
Whom is like him because it is used as an object. (It is never the subject of a verb.) For example:
  • Sarah saw whom on the bus?
  • (Compare this with "Sarah saw him on the bus.")

Who Is the Subject of a Verb

The word who can only be used when it is the subject of a verb. If you don't know what that means, it just means it is like the words I, he, she, we, and they. Just like who, these words are used as subjects.

Confusing who and whom is like confusing I and me or he and him. Here they all are in a table:

Subjective PronounObjective Pronoun
IMe
YouYou
He / She / ItHim / Her / It
WeUs
YouYou
TheyThem
WhoWhom

Examples of Who and Whom in Sentences

Here are some examples of who and whom in sentences:
  • Who paid for the meal?
  • (Who is the subject of the verb to pay.)

  • I have not seen the man who lives in the hut by the beach for a week.
  • (Who is the subject of the verb to live.)

  • I wonder who is in charge.
  • (Who is the subject of the verb to be, i.e., who is.)

  • Sarah gave the tickets to who?
  • (This is wrong. Sarah is the subject of gave. Who is not the subject of any verb. Therefore, you cannot use who. It should be whom. This is like saying "Sarah gave the tickets to he.")

  • Do you know the boy who rang the bell?
  • (Who is the subject of rang.)

Real Life Examples of People Using Whom Incorrectly

Often, you have to look closely at your sentence to see whether who is the subject of a verb. Here are two real-life examples of people getting it wrong:
  • If you notice any faulty office equipment or hazards, please report them to your supervisor whom will notify the management.
  • (This is wrong. It should be "who will notify the management".)
Here is a slightly more complicated example from a TV magazine. The use of whom is incorrect because it is the subject of existed.


This should be "...madman who the authorities refused to admit existed".)

Whom Is Never the Subject of a Verb

Whom is like him, her, and them because it is never the subject of a verb. Whom is an object. For example:

Examples of Whom in Sentences

  • Claire kissed whom yesterday?
  • (Here, whom is the direct object of the verb saw.) 

  • You gave the parcel to whom?
  • (Here, whom is the indirect object of the verb gave.)

  • You sat by whom all night?
  • (Here, whom is the object of the preposition by.) 

  • She is a wistful recluse whom lives near the river.
  • (Remember, whom cannot be the subject of a verb. This should be "who lives".)
"John told Jackie your secret."

    "Whom?"

"John."

    "No, I asked whom not who."

Whom after Prepositions

Always use whom after prepositions. (Prepositions are words like to, with, by, on, in, near.). In the examples below, the prepositions are in bold.
  • You have a child by whom?

  • With whom did you see Janice?

  • That is the lady to whom I made the promise.

  • That is the lady whom I made the promise to.
  • (Some writers like to avoid ending a sentence in a preposition and construct their sentences like the one above. Remember, the preposition still governs whom.)
Here is an example of an estate agent forgetting that whom follows a preposition:


(This should be "BY WHOM?".)

A Joke That Misuses Who

Here is a joke from a student comic that misuses who:


It should be "Two hits to whom?".
Quick Test
 
 
Note

What Is the Subject of a Verb?

Verbs are doing words (e.g., to dance, to sit, to fly, to think).

The subject of a verb is the person or thing that is doing the action. For example:
  • Peter flies to Moscow on Tuesdays.
  • (Peter is the subject of the verb to fly.)
  • Helen's boss drinks like a fish during the day.
  • (Helen's boss is the subject of the verb to drink.)
Top Tip

A Neat Trick for Spotting Who

Substitute who with the word he. If that part of the sentence still makes sense, then who is almost certainly correct. For example:
  • Who paid for the meal?
  • He paid for the meal.
  • (As he sounds ok, who must be correct.)

  • I have never seen the man who lives in the hut.
  • (As "he lives in the hut" sounds okay, who must be correct.)

  • I wonder who is in charge.
  • (As "he is in charge" sounds okay, who must be correct.)

  • Sarah gave the tickets to who?
  • (As "gave the tickets to he" sounds wrong, who must be wrong. This should be "gave the tickets to whom?".)
This trick works because who and he are used as the subjects of verbs. They are said to be in the subjective case.

Who = They

In order to perform this trick for plurals, you will have to substitute who with the word they.
  • I met the people who were on the plane.
  • (As "they were on the plane" is okay, who must be correct.)

A Neat Trick for Spotting Whom

Substitute whom with the word him (or them for plurals). If that part of the sentence still makes sense, then whom is almost certainly correct.
  • Sarah gave the tickets to whom?
  • (As "Sarah gave the tickets to him" sounds okay, whom must be correct.)
  • The witness saw four boys, one of whom had a limp.
  • (As "one of them" sounds okay, whom must be correct.)

Don't Get it? Use Who

If you're unsure which to use, use who. Firstly, it is much more common than whom. Secondly, the use of whom is considered by many to be on its last legs in English.

Of course, Grammar Monster cannot fully condone this practice, but if you don't have time to learn the difference, this advice will do for now. (Of note, the pronouns you and it make no distinction between being a subject or an object, and who appears to be heading in that direction too.)

Example:
  • Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes? (Groucho Marx quote)
  • (This quote by Groucho Marx is incorrect. It should start Whom are you going to believe. However, as whom sounds a bit contrived, we'll let Groucho off this time.)