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When to Use “Who” vs. “Whom”

Updated on September 18, 2023Grammar

Whom is used to refer to the object of a verb or preposition. When in doubt, try this simple trick: If you can replace the word with he or she, use who. If you can replace it with him or her, use whom.

  • Who should be used to refer to the subject of a sentence.
  • Whom should be used to refer to the object of a verb or preposition.

Who or whom? If you’re like most English speakers, you know that there’s a difference between these pronouns, but you aren’t sure what that difference is. After reading this article, you may conclude that knowing when to use which one is not as difficult as you thought.

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When to use who

In a sentence, who is used as a subject. Let’s look at a couple of examples:

Who would like to go on vacation?

Who made these awesome quesadillas?

When to use whom

Whom is used as the object of a verb or preposition. Consider these examples:

To whom was the letter addressed?

Whom do you believe?

I do not know with whom I will go to the prom.

Understanding the difference

How can you tell when your pronoun is the object of a verb or preposition? Try substituting the subjective-case pronoun he, she, or they for who or whom And then try substituting the objective-case pronoun him, her, or them. If he, she, or they fits, you should use the subjective option: who. If him, her, or them fits, you should use the objective option: whom. Keep in mind that you may have to temporarily rearrange the sentence a bit while you test it.

Who/whom ate my sandwich?

Try substituting she and her: She ate my sandwich. Her ate my sandwich. Because the pronoun is the subject of this sentence, the subjective she sounds right and her doesn’t. That means the word you want is the subjective who.

Whom ate my sandwich?

Who ate my sandwich?

Let’s look at another:

Who/whom should I talk to about labeling food in the refrigerator?

Before we can try substituting they and them here, we need to notice something about this sentence: it’s interrogative, meaning it’s a question, and as with many interrogative sentences, the subject, I, doesn’t come at the beginning but in the middle. Turning it into a declarative sentence by moving the subject to the beginning and making it a statement instead of a question will make it easier to tell which pronoun case sounds more natural: I should talk to they. I should talk to them. The objective them sounds right, so the word you need is the objective one: whom.

Whom should I talk to about labeling food in the refrigerator?

You can also use questions to determine when to use who and when to use whom. Are you using the pronoun to talk about someone who is doing something?

Who drives her mother’s car to school? Gina drives her mother’s car to school.

Yes, you are talking about someone doing something; the pronoun refers to the subject of the second sentence, Gina, so use who in your question.

Now look at these sentences:

Whom did Gina pick up in her mother’s car today? Gina picked up Charlie in her mother’s car today.

In this case, we are not using the pronoun to refer to the subject of the sentences, the person doing something (Gina), but to refer to the person she is doing something for: Charlie. In other words, Charlie is the direct object of the verb pick up in the second sentence, so we know to use the objective whom in the question.

If you think the whom examples sound awkward or fussy, you are not alone. Many people don’t use whom in casual speech or writing. Others use it only in well-established phrases such as “to whom it may concern.” Some people never use it at all. It’s not unusual, or even incorrect in many contexts, to hear sentences like these:

Who do you believe?

Who should I talk to about labeling food in the refrigerator?

But understanding the rules that gave us whom and who in the first place lets you make an informed decision about whether or not you are a writer to whom they matter.

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