Who and whom
 
Who is the subject of a verb.
Whom is never the subject of a verb.
(Explained below)
 

Who – Subject of Verb

The word who can only be used when it is the subject of a verb. That might sound confusing, but it just means it is like the words I, he, she, we, and they. Just like who, each of these words can only be the subject of a verb. The difference with who is that some people are unsure when to use who and whom. Well, confusing that pair is no different from confusing these pairs: I/me, he/him, she/her, and they/them.

Examples:

  • 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?
  • (Sarah is the subject of to give, but 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?


  • should be who (subject of the verb existed)
    (TV listing in magazine)


    should be who (subject of will notify)
    (notice in office)

    Don't Get it? Use Who

    If you are 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 does not condone this practice, but if you don't have time to learn the difference, this advice will do for now. Of note, the pairings you/you and it/it make no distinction between being the subject of a verb or not, and who looks like it's 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.)

    Whom Is Never the Subject of a Verb

    Whom is never the subject of a verb. (Who, on the other hand, is always the subject of a verb.)

    Examples:

    • You sat by whom all night?
    • (In this example, whomis not the subject of any verb. You is the subject of to sit.) 

    • She is a wistful recluse whom lives near the river.
    • (Whom cannot be the subject of the verb to live. It should be who.)

    • Claire saw whom yesterday?
    • (In this example, whom is not the subject of any verb. Claire is the subject of to see.) 

    • Kelvin was with whom?

    Whom after Prepositions

    Always use whom after prepositions. (Prepositions are words like to, with, by, on, in, near.)

    • You have a child by whom?
    • (by – preposition)
    • With whom did you see Janice?
    • (with – preposition)

    • That is the lady to whom I made the promise.
    • (to – preposition)
       
    • That is the lady whom I made the promise to.
    • (This is similar to the example above. Ideally, you should not end a sentence in a preposition (like to), but sometimes it sounds better. The word to still governs whom even though it is at the end of the sentence.)


    should be by whom
    (advertisement by estate agent)


    • With whom did you go the cinema?
    • (with – preposition)
    • Whom did you go to the cinema with?
    • (This is similar to the example above. Ideally, you should not end a sentence in a preposition (like with), but sometimes it sounds better. The word with still governs whom even though it is at the end of the sentence.)

    • A joke in a student comic:


      It should be Two hits to whom?
      (joke in a student comic)
     
    Select the correct version:

     
     

 
SUBJECT OF A VERB?

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

The subject of a verb is the person or thing that is doing the action.

  • 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.)
 
 
WHO = HE (A NEAT TRICK) 

Substitute who with the word he. If that part of the sentence still makes sense, then who is almost certainly correct. (These are from the examples to the left.)

  • Who paid for the meal?
  • He paid for the meal. (< sounds ok. Therefore: Who paid for the meal? is correct.)


  • I have not seen the man who lives in the hut by the beach for a week.
  • ...he lives in the hut... (< sounds ok. Therefore: who is correct.)


  • I wonder who is in charge.
  • ...he is in charge.(< sounds ok. Therefore: who is correct.)


  • Sarah gave the tickets to who?
  • ...to he? (< does not sound ok. Therefore: who is wrong.)

Who and he are always the subjects of verbs. They are said to be in the subjective case. This is why the trick works.

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.
  • ...they were on the plane. (< sounds ok. Therefore: who is correct.)

WHOM = HIM (A NEAT TRICK)

Substitute whom with the word him. If that part of the sentence still makes sense, then whom is almost certainly correct.

  • Sarah gave the tickets to whom?
  • Sarah gave the tickets to him. (< sounds ok. Therefore: whom is correct.)

(Whom and him are never the subjects of verbs. They are said to be in the objective case. This is why the trick works.)

WHOM = THEM

In order to perform this trick for plurals, you will have to substitute who with the word them.

  • The witness saw four boys, one of whom had a limp, leave the shop.
  • ...one of them had a limp... (< sounds ok. Therefore: whom is correct.)
 


See also:

What are pronouns?
The object of a preposition