Learn the difference between who and whom in this English grammar lesson.
Who is a subject pronoun and whom is an object pronoun. We’ll show you:
– how who and whom work
– a test to see if who or whom is correct
– when it’s appropriate to use whom in formal writing
– when it’s not appropriate to use whom (Whom can sound pompous)
– how we use whom in constructions with prepositions
We’ll also show you lots of examples of who and whom in action.
Click here to learn the difference between whose and who’s
Who and whom – when and how to use them
No, it’s to whom.
Hi everyone. I’m Vicki and I’m British.
And I’m Jay and I’m American.
We’ve had a lot of requests for a video about ‘who’ and ‘whom’.
It’s taken us a long time to make it. Why is that?
It’s because of the word ‘whom’. We don’t use it much these days. We usually say who instead when we’re speaking.
And what about written English?
That’s different. There are particular documents where we use whom.
We’ll tell you more about that later. But first we’ll show you how ‘who’ and ‘whom’ work.
Yeah, you need to know about subjects and objects.
Oh no, what happened?
I don’t know! Someone hit me!
Who hit you?
I’ve no idea.
But I’ll be ready next time.
So what happened there?
Someone hit me!
So someone, we don’t know who, did the action and Jay received the action. Someone is the subject in this sentence and Jay is the object.
Yeah! But it won’t happen again.
You hit someone!
Who did you hit?
That guy over there!
So this time you hit someone else.
Yeah, I got that guy!
So in this sentence Jay’s the subject because he did the action, and the other guy’s the object because he received the action.
Vicki asked me two questions. First she asked about the subject. And then she asked about the object. She used the pronoun ‘who’ both times. When we’re speaking, we use who to ask about the subject and the object.
But according to a rule of formal grammar, I made a mistake here. The rule goes we should use ‘who’ to ask about the subject, and ‘whom’ to ask about the object. So ‘Who hit Jay?’ and ‘Whom did Jay hit’?
So that’s the difference between ‘who’ and ‘whom’.
Who is a subject pronoun and whom is an object pronoun.
We need another example.
Hey, stop that man.
Take a look at these questions. If you follow the traditional grammar rule, one question should start with ‘who’ and the other should start with ‘whom’.
Can you work out which is which? You need to think about subjects and objects.
So we’re asking a question about who did the action here – the chasing. So this question is asking about the subject of the sentence. We use ‘who’ because ‘who’ is a subject pronoun.
And this question is asking about who received the action – the object.
If you think it sounds complicated, you’re not alone. A lot of people find it hard.
Native speakers often get confused.
These days, when we’re speaking, we use ‘who’ in both questions so a lot of English speakers don’t know when to use whom.
But don’t worry. There’s a trick for working it out.
It’s the ‘he-him’ test.
We’ll show you how it works.
If you’re not sure whether to use who or whom, try answering the question with another pronoun that you already know. You probably know these. They’re all subject pronouns. And you probably know these too. They’re all object pronouns.
We can use ‘he’ and ‘him’ to test whether ‘who’ or ‘whom’ works. Notice that ‘he’ and ‘who’ are both subject pronouns and ‘him’ and ‘whom’ are both object pronouns. And also notice that ‘him’ and ‘whom’ both end with the letter M. That will help you remember that they go together.
Here’s an example. Should you say ‘who’ or ‘whom’ here? No idea? Then try answering with ‘he’ or ‘him’. He follows me on Twitter – that sounds possible. What about him? ‘Him follows me on Twitter.’ No, that sounds wrong. So ‘who’ is correct.
Here’s another example. Is the missing word who or whom? Well, let’s answer the question with ‘he’. ‘I follow he’. No, that sounds wrong. Let’s try ‘him’. ‘I follow him’. That sounds OK. So the answer here is whom.
So that’s a way to test if it’s who or whom.
But remember, we don’t normally follow this rule in spoken English. We use who as an object pronoun these days.
But some people get upset about it, if they see who instead of whom.
Yes, like Twitter has a feature called ‘who to follow’ and some people complained and wanted them to call it ‘Whom to follow’.
‘Whom to follow’– that’s technically correct.
But we’d never say it. I think it’s a silly idea.
Whom sounds very old fashioned.
And very, very formal.
Whom can sound pompous.
Exactly. ‘Whom’ creates a social distance between you and your listener.
You don’t want to sound pompous. It’s not a good thing.
Another word that’s similar to pompous is pretentious. Whom can sound pretentious.
You don’t want to seem like you’re pretending to be more sophisticated than you are.
So be careful with the word whom.
Don’t say it in questions when you’re speaking.
Yeah. But there’s another grammatical structure where we could use whom.
Oh let’s see some.
Now before we start the conference, there are some people whom we must thank. There’s Mr. Jones, who sent the invitations and Mrs. Smith, who organized the accommodation. And then there’s Mr. Peters, whom you will meet later when he will explain the conference schedule. And then there’s something green in your teeth.
Has it gone?
Yeah, you’re all right. Let’s see how those relative clauses work.
We use relative clauses to add information about someone we’ve just mentioned. The same rules for who and whom apply. We use who for subjects and whom for objects. And if you’re not sure, you can use the ‘he-him’ test again.
So with Mr Jones? Did ‘he’ send the invitations or did ‘him’ send the invitations? He did, so we need the subject pronoun here – who. And it’s the same with Mrs Smith. She did the action so we say who.
And some more examples. ‘We must thank some people’. We must thank ‘he’? That doesn’t sound good. We must thank ‘him’. That works so we need an object pronoun. And the last one, Mr Peters. Are we going to meet ‘he’ later or ‘him’ later? It’s him so we say ‘whom’.
You’ll only find whom used like this in very formal spoken English. Normally we’d say who in these examples.
Languages change over time and in spoken English ‘whom’ has been disappearing. In fact it’s almost gone.
And what about written English?
It’s hanging on there. We still use it, but only in formal writing.
Whom in formal writing
In emails and texts, we’ll use who instead of whom.
But some companies have a house style for formal reports where they use ‘whom’.
And whom is still the house style for the New York Times.
I did a search of my computer and I found ‘whom’ in two kinds of documents.
What were they?
Legal documents like contracts.
Ah yes. Contracts are written in a very formal style.
And academic papers. So research papers that are published in journals.
That makes sense. They’re formal too.
Oh and I also found it in a reference.
A job reference?
Yes, I’d written a reference for someone and I didn’t know the name of the person I was writing to, so I addressed it ‘To whom it may concern’.
That’s a standard phrase – I often use it when I submit job applications. And again, it’s very formal.
And it’s interesting, because a lot of the time, we can write who instead of whom these days and it’s fine and appropriate, but here we wouldn’t write who.
It would sound strange. It has to be whom. Is it because it comes after a preposition?
Yes, in formal writing it’s better to write whom in constructions with prepositions. In fact the most common way we use whom is in phrases like one of whom, some of whom, most of whom.
So we’d write whome here, not who, because it comes after ‘of’.
Yes. Whom often follows a preposition: of whom, with whom, from whom, and to whom of course. But that’s formal writing. In spoken English ‘to whom’ sounds silly.
Now settle down children. We’re going to do some grammar. To whom does this sock belong?
According to the traditional grammar rule, this question is correct.
But we would never say it. We might say who does this sock belong to – but then the question ends with a preposition.
Yeah. That’s fine.
But when I when I was in school my teachers said you shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition.
That rule is stupid. If you want us to make another video about silly English grammar rules, tell us in the comments.
Do you think the who-whom rule is silly?
Errr no. The word whom is disappearing, but there are still places where it’s appropriate to use it – like in formal writing.
We hope this video has been useful for the writers who we teach – whom we teach – who we teach…
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See you next week everyone. Bye.