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How Do I Know Which Pronoun to Use? The Difference Between Who and Whom

written by: Lady Lit • edited by: Wendy Finn • updated: 1/5/2012

There are no other two words in the English language that high school students like to misuse: using who when they mean whom and whom when they mean who. Now, teachers can introduce and cover teaching the correct usage of who/whom in about five minutes.

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    Teaching Who vs. Whom to High School Students

    Using this method to teach who/whom gives students an effective way to distinguish between these two often confused words.

    Introduce who as the nominative case or subject pronoun. Remind students that nominative case/subject pronouns typically, but not always, begin sentences and follow the common forms of be. Tell students just to remember that who represents he, she, they, we, etc. Introduce whom as the objective case or object pronoun. Remind students that these pronouns typically, but not always, come at the end of sentences. Then, tell students just to remember that whom represents him, her, them, us, etc.

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    Steps to Determine Which To Use

    Put the following sentence and steps on the board:

    I gave the autographed card to (who/whom).

    • Form a question beginning with the blank.
    • Question: Who did I give the autographed card to?
    • Answer the question in a complete sentence using he/him.
    • Answer: I gave the card to him.
    • If the answer is him, choose whom. If the answer is he, choose who.
    • In this case, the answer is him, so choose whom.

    James is someone (who, whom) I admire.

    • Question: Whom do I admire?
    • Answer: I admire him. (Because of him, choose whom.)

    I’d really like to know (who, whom) the artist is.

    • Question: Who is the artist?
    • Answer: He is the artist.(Because of he, choose who.)
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    What Type of Student Will This Benefit?

    This methodology for determining the usage of who/whom is great for students who possess minimal grammar skills. Students who have minimal grammar skills often find who/whom completely overwhelming, but this short and easy method is something that even one’s weakest student can grasp in a short time.

    For students who are proficient in grammar, challenge them to look for prepositions and direct/indirect objects and to find the answer by breaking down how specific words function in the sentence.

    There are adults who still don't know which is the correct pronoun to use in certain cases, so this is a great quick lesson for anyone wanting to improve their grammar.