Communication Skills

JS Tip 137: Using “Who” and “Whom”

Our first tip—two and a half years ago—was on “who” and “whom.” Recently, though, we’ve been asked about the subject, so we’ll re-run the tip.

From the Basic Writing Workshops: Using “Who” and “Whom”

“Whom” is fading fast from the language, but we’ll talk about it anyway.

“Who” is always a subject. “Whom” is always an object. (Subjective case and objective case, but don’t worry about that.)

An easy way to remember is to think of how “whom” sounds like “him.” (“Him” is always an object.) If you can substitute “him” for the who-or-whom in question, you should use “whom.” If not, you should use “who.”

Who did the work?

Can you substitute “him” here? “Him did the work?” Nope. “Who” is correct.

You gave the contract to whom?

“You gave the contract to him?” Yeah, that works. “Whom” is correct.

You may have to rearrange the sentence.

Whom did you see yesterday?

The sentence rearranges to “Did you see him yesterday?” “Him” works, so “whom” works.

(But notice how stiff and awkward “whom” sounds. The question sounds like it was asked by an English butler. Use what sounds best. “Whom” will fade away.)

Our thanks to Leah Mencias at the Utah Department of Children and Family Services for inspiring this week's tip.

Next week: Bureaucratic language versus conversational language. The great smackdown. (Hmm. “Smackdown.” Is that a word?)