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English Grammar Tips: Who vs. Whom

written by: Keren Perles • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 1/5/2012

Who knows the difference between who and whom? The question of who vs whom is a common one, but one that is surprisingly easy to answer. This article explains how.

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    The Problem

    Look at these two sentences. Which one should use “who"? Which one should use “whom"?

    1. I am not sure (who/whom) I should take to dinner tonight.
    2. I am not sure (who/whom) will be at the dinner tonight.

    Believe it or not, these sentences require two different words. The first sentence should use “whom" and the second sentence should use “who." How can you tell the difference? That’s what we’re here to find out.

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    The Easy-To-Use Technique

    If you’re not sure whether to use “who" or “whom" in a sentence, follow these two steps:

    1. Remove the phrases before the word “who" or “whom."
    2. Try sticking the words “he" or “him" into rest of the sentence instead of “who" or “whom."
    3. If the word “he" fits, use “who." If the word “him" fits, use “whom."

    For example, take a look at the first example above. Take off the beginning of the sentence (“I am not sure"), and you’re left with “(Who/whom) I should take to dinner tonight." Then try to stick the words “he" or “him" into the remaining sentence. “I should take HIM to dinner tonight." You can’t stick in the word “he" instead, or you would get “He I should take to dinner tonight" or “I should take he to dinner tonight," neither of which is correct. Therefore, the sentence should read “I am not sure whom I should take to dinner tonight.

    Now take a look at the second example. Take off the beginning of the sentence (“I am not sure"), and you’re left with “(Who/whom) will be at dinner tonight." Then try to stick the words “he" or “him" into the remaining sentence. “He will be at dinner tonight." You can’t stick in the word “him" instead, or you would get “Him will be at dinner tonight" or “Will be him at dinner tonight," neither of which is correct. Therefore, the sentence should read “I am not sure who will be at dinner tonight."

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    Why This Works

    For those of you who think that grammar is the best thing since sliced bread, read this section carefully. For those of you who can’t stand grammar, skim this if you’d like, and then use the technique described above.

    “Who" is the nominative form and “whom" is the objective form, in the same way that “he" is the nominative form and “him" is the objective form. Because our ears are used to hearing “he" and “him" used correctly, we know instinctively when to use the nominative form and when to use the objective form. Because “who" is generally used in conversation when “whom" would be correct, the trick above helps your ear to understand which one you should use. The question of "who" vs "whom" is really the same question as "he" vs him" - just harder for your ear to answer.