Posted by: Idioma Extra | March 4, 2010

Thursday’s Tidbit

Beware of “Whom”

Like most pronouns, who has two forms: a subject form, who, and an object form, whom.

To understand the use of pronoun pairs such as who/whom, he/him, she/her, I/me, they/them, and we/us when used with a verb, one must recognize whether the word is being used as the subject of the verb or as its object.

Every verb has a subject. The subject is the doer of an action. Look at the questions that follow:

I sing. — Who sings?
We shop in town. — Who shops in the town?
Who knows the secret?

Some verbs have objects. The object receives the action. Now look at the difference in the questions that follow:

The ball hit me. — Whom did the ball hit?
Don’t forget us. — Whom can’t we forget?
Whom do you like best?

Most of the time we have little trouble recognizing subject and verb because the subject usually comes before the verb and the object comes after it.

The difficulty with who/whom arises from the fact that in a question, word order is reversed. We say “Where are you going?” and not “You are going where?”, “Whom do you like best?” and not “You do like whom best?” But a good trick is to try and put the question into a sentence, and then you can see which part is missing:

_______ did she go out with last night?
She went out with _________. In this case, the object (receiving the action) is missing, so we know the question needs whom.
Whom did she go out with last night?


The use of whom as the object form of who is tending to disappear in the language. More and more educated speakers and writers use who as both subject and object. There doesn’t seem to be any reason not to. “Who do you want?” has become acceptable. Indeed, to the American ear, “Whom do you want?” sounds excessively proper. Many observe the difference between who and whom in writing, but rarely in speaking.

Whatever you do, don’t use whom as a subject! If you aren’t sure whether to use who or whom, go with who.

Test Yourself!

Complete the questions with whom or who.

  1. _______ is coming to the meeting today?
  2. _______ are you going to eat lunch with today? A client or friend?
  3. _______ is Jack staying with on his business trip?
  4. _______ do you want to receive the promotion next month?
  5. _______ called your office at 5am this morning?

Answers from the Last Tidbit

  1. The teacher told us the information was going to be on the test on Friday, so we all wrote down what she told us.
  2. Jessica’s boss fixed her up on a date with his brother. She hopes she likes him or else it will be very uncomfortable in the office on Monday.
  3. Rob’s boss told him an important promotion was coming up. Rob’s been working overtime since trying to impress management.
  4. Mr. Johnson asked Claire to write up all the notes from the meeting in an email and send it out to the whole company.
  5. A: Will you buy ____ me lunch today? I don’t have any money on me.
    B: Sure, but can you pay me tomorrow? My best friend is coming down here from up north and I want to take him out to dinner tomorrow.
    A: Sure, no problem!

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