When you’re trying to figure out whether to use who or whom, it helps to know the difference between subjects and objects because you use who when you’re referring to the subject of a clause and whom when you’re referring to the object of a clause. In other words, who is a subject opens in a new windowpronoun and whom is an object pronoun.
4 Ways to Remember Who vs. Whom
- Subjects and Objects
- Just “Whom”
- Just “Who”
- The “Himlich Maneuver”
Let’s explore each a little further.
1. Subject and Objects
The subject of a sentence is doing something, and the object of a sentence is having something done to it.
For example, if Squiggly calls Aardvark, then Squiggly is the subject because he is the one calling, and Aardvark is the object because he is the one being called.
Squiggly is the subject because he’s taking action, and Aardvark is the object because he’s the recipient of the action.
opens in a new windowSee Also: A Subject-Object Valentine
2. Just “Whom”
Remember, use whom when you are referring to the object of a sentence. My guess is that when people ask about who or whom, most of the time they are really just curious about whom because that’s the less common word. You tend to look at sentences and think Is this where I need a whom? not Is this where I need a who?
For example, it is Whom did you squish? if you are trying to figure out that I squished Squiggly because whom is the one being squished—the object of the squishing.
Here’s another example: It would be Whom do you love? because you are asking about the object—the target of the love. I know, it’s shocking, but Bo Diddley was being grammatically incorrect when he wrote the song “Who Do You Love?”
opens in a new windowTake the “Who” Versus “Whom” Quiz ⇒
3. Just “Who”
So when do you use who? If you are asking about the subject of these sentences, then you’d use who.
For example, Who loves you? and Who squished Squiggly? In both these cases the one you are asking about is the subject—the one taking action, not the one being acted on. The subjects are the person doing the loving and the person doing the squishing.
4. The Himlich Maneuver
Still too hard to remember? OK, here’s the quick and dirty tip that doesn’t make you think about subjects and objects.
Like whom, the pronoun him ends with the letter M. When you’re trying to decide whether to use who or whom, ask yourself if the hypothetical answer to the question would contain he or him. If it’s him, you use whom, and they both end with M.
For example, if the question is Who did you squish? or Whom did you squish?, the answer could be I squished him. You have a him, so you know the right pronoun is whom: Whom did you squish?
That’s the trick: If you can answer the question with him, then use whom, and it’s easy to remember because they both end with M.
Here’s another one: If the question is Who loves you? or Whom loves you?, a simple answer could be He loves me—not him. In this case, your answer has a he, not a him. No M, so you know the right choice is who.
That trick, which I sometimes call the Himlich maneuver, works because like whom, him is an object pronoun, so you’re using it as a test case for your sentence. If your answer has a him, it’s telling you that you need the object pronoun, whom. So even if you don’t know it, when you use the Himlich maneuver, you’re distinguishing between the subject and the object. Good job.
opens in a new windowWhoever or Whomever?
opens in a new windowWho Versus Who, With Linking Verbs
opens in a new windowWho Versus Whom, in Clauses
Download the Chapter on “Dirty Words” From Grammar Girl’s Book
Who versus whom is just one of the many confusing word choices that Mignon Fogarty covers in the “Dirty Words” chapter of her book, Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. You can download the chapter by clicking opens in a new windowhereopens PDF file .
Order a copy of the paperback edition from any of these online retailers or pick one up at your favorite bookstore such as opens in a new windowAmazon, opens in a new windowBarnes and Noble, and opens in a new windowPowell’s.
The book is also available in an e-book edition. You can download a copy wherever e-books are sold.
This post was originally published March 9, 2007 and was updated August 17, 2016.
Think you understand the difference between “who” and “whom”? opens in a new windowTake the quiz. ⇒
Pingback: What Does The Phrase Who Among Us Mean?