Differences between Who vs. Whom. The problem with the words who and whom is that not only do they sound very similar, but we use them in situations that are very similar too. Knowing when to use which of the words is a difficult thing, and some of the most enthusiastic writers in the world still don’t know how to use the two correctly, so where does that leave the rest of us?
Thankfully, this guide will take you through how to use who and whom correctly, provide you with some common mistakes and examples, and give you a helpful little trick to check if you have used the words who or whom correctly, or whether it needs to be changed to the other one.
Who vs. Whom
So many people use who when they should use whom, especially when speaking, that it is not considered a big mistake. However, if you want to know the difference between whom vs. who and be sure that you are using the correct one. It is a pretty simple one.
Differences between Who vs. Whom
- WHO is a pronoun that refers to the subject of the sentence.
- WHOM is a pronoun that refers to the object of the sentence.
- Who locked the door?
- She’s the woman whom I met in Paris.
Whom is most often used to refer to the object of a verb or a preposition. Most often you’ll find whom following another word, as it is less likely to find whom at the start of a sentence than it is to find who there (although this isn’t impossible). Remember whom always refers to the object of the sentence.
When we use who in a sentence, it should always refer to the subject of the sentence, not the object. There is a straightforward way to remember this distinction, without having to identify whether you’re referring to the object or subject, which can often get confusing. Follow this simple shortcut below, and you’ll never make the mistake of using whom or who wrongly again!
Trick to Remember the Differences between Whom vs. Who
When using whom in a sentence, you should be able to replace it with her/him/them, and the sentence should still make grammatical sense. Like this:
- To whom did you give the laptop?
- To her/him/them did you give the laptop?
Of course, the above example reads oddly, but it still makes grammatical sense (even if it feels a little Old English-y).
Likewise, when using who in a sentence, you should be able to replace it with he/she/they, and the sentence should still make grammatical sense again. Like this:
- Who will attend the party?
- She/He/They will attend the party?
This makes slightly more sense when you read it too, so that’s a bonus. Just remember, whom can be replaced with her/him/them, and who can be replaced with he/she/they.
Here are a few general rules that will help you never get confused about which pronoun to put in a sentence:
When to Use Who
1) You are asking about the subject, i.e. the person who performs the action, e.g. Who is his mother? Who will come here tomorrow?
2) You are adding a clause to give additional information about the subject, e.g. Jennifer is my friend who likes reading.
3) You are asking about the name of someone or a group of people, e.g. Who is the class president?
When to Use Whom
1) You are asking about the object, i.e. the person to which the action is directed, e.g. Whom should I help? Whom did you ask to come with you?
2) You are adding a relative clause to give additional information about the object, e.g. She called the man whom she met yesterday.
3) You are asking an indirect question about the object, e.g. They asked me, whom I invited to dinner.
Common Mistakes When Using Who and Whom
There are several common situations in which we mix up who and whom, and do so regularly. This part of the guide will take you through those common mistakes, and highlight the best way to write the sentences, grammatically.
Many of whom vs. Many of who
In the case of many of whom vs. many of who, there are often mistakes made by writers who simply do not understand why grammatically one makes more sense over the other. When you read them both out loud, they both sound right. In order to test which is the correct one grammatically, we can use our trick from earlier. Here’s an example:
- The students, many of whom perform well in every other class, seem to struggle with Math.
- The students, many of who perform well in every other class, seem to struggle with Math.
Now we need to remember to change whom to either him/her/them, and who to he/she/they. As we are talking about the students, plural, we need to use them for whom, and they for who. Now let’s look:
- The students, many of them perform well in every other class, seem to struggle with Math.
- The students, many of they perform well in every other class, seem to struggle with Math.
As you can see, many of whom is the correct phrase, because when changed with them, the sentence still makes sense. Changing who for they, makes little sense, so you can be confident that many of whom is the correct phrase to use.
Who to ask vs. Whom to ask
In the case of who to ask vs. whom to ask, it’s difficult to know which is correct again. The key – use the trick we provided earlier! Here’s an example for you to consider:
- Do you know who to ask?
- Do you know whom to ask?
Typically, we would say do you know who to ask. But it might come as a surprise when we use our trick to see which is correct. Have a look:
- Do you know he/she/they to ask?
- Do you know him/her/them to ask?
This example doesn’t work completely perfectly again, and the bottom one sounds odd to the ear when read aloud, but it is grammatically correct. The top one is not. So we should actually say whom to ask.
The technical reason for this, besides the simple shortcut trick, is that when we use the phrase whom to ask, we are actually saying should I ask. As we need to refer to the object of the verb ask, we use whom. Remember, whom refers to the object of a verb, and who refers to the subject.
Who did you see vs. Whom did you see
This final mistake is another common one, and possibly one of the most common of the three we have looked at so far. In everyday speech, we would say who did you see? If a family member had been to the store but taken longer than usual we would be inclined to ask ‘Who did you see?’ but when we use our trick from earlier, the results might surprise you. Have a look at this example below:
- Who did you see?
- Whom did you see?
Using our trick, it would look like this:
- He/She/They did you see?
- Him/Her/Them did you see?
Now neither of these really make sense when read aloud. But if we move the phrases around slightly, you’ll see a difference:
- Did you see he/she/they?
- Did you see him/her/them?
Now you can see that the bottom one is correct. So technically, when we are asking who somebody saw, we should ask ‘whom did you see’, not, as we more commonly do, ‘who did you see’.
Points To Remember
The key thing to remember with these common mistakes is that whom always refers to the object of a verb or the preposition, whereas who refers to the subject of the sentence. In order to test whether you are using this relationship correctly, change whom or him/her/them in a sentence, and who for he/she/they. If the sentence still makes sense, then you know you have used the correct one.
How to Use Whom vs. Who | Useful Tips
There is a trick that will help you solve the “Who vs. Whom” dilemma you might be having when speaking and writing. If you can replace the pronoun with “she” or “he”, “who” will be correct. Otherwise, if you can substitute the pronoun with “her” or “him”, you should use “whom”.
Let’s say that you want to ask, “Who/ Whom took my book?”. The answer to this question might be, “She took my book”, not “Her took my book”. Therefore, in this case, it is correct to use “who”: Who took my book.
Take a look at a different example: “Who/ Whom should I ask about the plans for tomorrow?”. The answer will be, “I should talk to him”, not “I should talk to he”. This means that “whom” will be the right pronoun to use in this sentence.
On some occasions, however, it is a little bit more complicated and, in order to figure out which is the correct option, you will need to slightly rewrite the sentence.
For instance, there is a sentence, “Mary is the girl who/ whom I told you about”. Which pronoun should you use? To decide, change the structure and say, “Mary is the girl. I told you about her”. Maybe this structure sounds a bit awkward, but it clearly shows that the correct pronoun is “whom” because you can’t say, “I told you about she”.
What about the sentence, “James is the man with who/whom I am going to the party”? If you rewrite it, you will get, “James is the man. I am going to the party with him”. Therefore, “whom” is the pronoun that you should use in this case.
Examples of Using Who vs. Whom in Sentences