TIPS AND TRICKS
WHO VS. WHOM
Sometimes even the native English speaker is unsure of when to use who and when to use whom. The main reason for this is most likely that native English speakers (most notably in North America) tend to omit the use of whom both in written and (most commonly) in oral English. Given that this is the case, opt for who if ever you are uncertain of which one to use. People are much less likely to notice a who that should be a whom (since it is so uncommon) than the opposite. Using whom incorrectly, on the other hand, could give the impression that one is trying to come off as learned while in fact not entirely knowing what he or she is doing . Whom can be omitted in informal writing, again because it has slipped from common usage. It should, however, be used in formal writing.
Who is the subject of a verb (i.e. the one doing the action).
- Who’s there?
- Please let me know who will be going.
Whom is the object of a verb (i.e. the one being acted upon).
- With whom did you go?
- Tomorrow we will announce whom we selected.
- Who/whom is at the door? Answer: He is. Therefore who is correct.
- I met three of the new professors yesterday, one of who/whom has already published several books. I met three of the new professors yesterday; one of them has already published several books. Therefore whom is correct.
However, this trick can prove to be problematic in certain instances. For example:
- The elderly man who/whom he believes may be his grandfather is standing in the doorway.
In this case, the sentence would have to be rearranged to use the trick discussed above.
- He believes that he may be his grandfather.
Given the above, who is the correct choice. The reason this could potentially be problematic is the placement of the word in the sentence. Since it is placed next to another pronoun (he), we might assume that who is in fact the object and should therefore be whom. This, however, is not the case. Here is another example:
- Ask whoever/whomever walks by for directions.
This example proves particularly difficult even with the trick because we automatically think of Ask him for directions, and this would lead us to believe that the correct choice is whomever. Conversely, whoever is correct. In this sentence, the entire phrase whoever walks by is the object of ask. A quick way of double-checking is seeing if who/whoever or whom/whomever is the subject of any of the verbs in the sentence. In this case, whoever is the subject of walks by, and therefore the correct choice would be whoever.
1. This guide was made to serve whoever/whomever might benefit from it.Answer
Dundurn Press. The Canadian Style: A Guide to Writing and Editing. Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1997.
Flick, Jane and Celia Millward. Handbook for Writers. 3rd Canadian ed. Toronto: Harcourt Brace & Company, Ltd., 1999.
Messenger, William E. et al. The Canadian Writer’s Handbook. 5th ed. Toronto: Oxford University Press Canada, 2008.
Created by: Diana Franz