General Writing and Grammar Help/Who vs Whom

Advertisement


Question
QUESTION: Respected Richard Johnson,

I am a non-native English speaker, and English is my second language. I have been learning English for some time now. However, my questions will be related to very tricky aspects of English language. One of the most intriguing issue is the correct usage of "Whom" and "Who" in English language. Even several native English speaker get confused about when to use "Who" and when to use "Whom". In fact, this mistake is so common that it is becoming more and more prevalent to use these both words incorrectly. I have read several articles related to this subject and some articles do shed some light on this subject. However, the problem in understanding the correct usage of these two words still exists. Can you provide some useful tips on the correct usage of these two words? I may provide sentence examples in my follow-up.

Thanks.

ANSWER: Thanks, Ryo, for your question.

1. Your comment about the common mistake by native English speakers is interesting. I believe that it's not so much a mistake as a failure to recognize that "whom" might sometimes be necessary--as if "who" were always acceptable. This is to be distinguished from the situation concerning "I" and "me," in which too many speakers choose the wrong form, which sometimes is one, sometimes the other.

2. As you probably know, "who" is the nominative form and "whom" the objective. "Who" represents the subject of a sentence or clause, while "whom" is usually the object of a verb or preposition. I'll provide a tip per your request, but I don't know how useful it may be: The question "Who is?" could always be answered, "He is"; and the question "Whom is?" makes no sense. Another tip: The form following the verb "to be" is always the nominative ["who"], a so-called "predicate nominative," so named because in the predicate it stands in for the subject. (Example: "He is who?") "To be," a copulative verb, never takes an object.

Don't fret it these tips are not helpful. Do ask me a follow-up or more than one.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Hi Rachard,

Thanks for your answer. This topic is very intriguing. I may send many questions related to this topic if you don't mind. You know that I am a Non-native English speaker. I would like to know that how can we identify objects and subjects in a sentence in order to correctly use "Who" and "Whom". I would like to cite examples of some sentences which I took from several websites. For example,

1a) Who do you bank with?

1b) Whom do you bank with?

In this sentence there are two persons. A person who is banking and the other person with whom the banking is done. It might be possible the person who is banking might be the subject or the object in this sentence. It might be possible that the person with whom the banking is done might be the subject or the object in this sentence. It is very difficult to figure out who is the object and who is the subject in this sentence in order to correctly use "Whom" and "Who" in such sentences. How to use "Whom" and "Who" after we find the subject and object in the sentence?

2a) Kathy was not sure who she was voting for.

2b) Kathy was not sure whom she was voting for.

In this example of sentence, there are also two persons. Kathy and the person who will get the vote. In this case, too, how can I figure out who is the subject and who is the object? Moreover, how to use "Whom" and "Who" after we find out object and subject in the sentence?

There are many other examples of sentences like these:-

3a) Who should we invite to the party.

3b) Whom should we invite to the party.

4a) For who the bell tolls?

4b) For whom the bell tolls?

It looks like identifying subjects and objects in sentences and correctly using "Whom" and "Who" is the real trick here.

I know that tricks like "He= Who and Him= Whom" can also help to figure out the correct usage of Whom and Who. But identifying correct objects and subjects is also very important because in many sentences the trick of "He= Who and Him= Whom" does not work all the time. I hope you would respond soon.

I am waiting for your answer.

Thanks.

ANSWER: Ryo, the subject of a sentence is a word or phrase representing the person or thing about which the sentence is written. An object can be an object of a verb or an object of a preposition. The object of a verb represents the person or thing acted upon. The object of a preposition completes the meaning of the preposition.

1a) Who do you bank with?
1b) Whom do you bank with?
2a) Kathy was not sure who she was voting for.
2b) Kathy was not sure whom she was voting for.
3a) Who should we invite to the party.
3b) Whom should we invite to the party.
4a) For who the bell tolls?
4b) For whom the bell tolls?


1b is correct, because whom is the object of the preposition with .
2b is correct, because whom is the object of the preposition for .
3b is correct, because whom is the object of the verb invite .
4b is correct, because whom is the object of the preposition for .

Please ask me as many follow-ups as you think might be helpful.




---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Respected Richard,

It took me a long time to create this follow-up question because I was looking at this subject from various angels. The question took a long time to be created. However, I hope you would provide a swift reply as usually you do :) I am very glad to have the opportunity to have a chat with you.

I have some sentences related to the correct usage of "Whom" and "Who". I have written them down in a notebook so I can recall them later. I have not tried to memorize them. I have attempted to select the correct word usage of Who or Whom in these sentences. I hope I haven't made mistakes. Here are the sentences:-

1) WHOM so you want to speak to?

I selected "whom" because this sentence contains preposition that is referring to the object in the sentence. If we rephrase the sentence, then it becomes like this: "So you want to speak to WHOM?" Therefore, I selected "Whom" in this sentence.

2) If I had known WHOM that was, I would have spoken to him.

I chose WHOM in this sentence because I followed the rule of He= Who and Whom= him. In this sentence, I can see that there are two dependent clauses joined together. In the second clause, the dependent clause is referring to the object as "him". I chose WHOM as stated in the rule I mentioned.

3) He is an author WHOM I know well.

I chose WHOM in this sentence because I think the verb (know) in this sentence is referring to the object (author). The verb (know) in this sentence was acted upon the object (author) in this sentence. This was the reason why I chose WHOM in this sentence.

4) He is a man WHOM I know well.

Just like sentence# 3 written above, this sentence follows the same explanation. In this sentence, too, the verb (know) was referring to the object (man). Therefore, I chose WHOM in this sentence.

5) You can select any candidate WHOM you think is fit for the job.

I selected WHOM in this sentence because the nature of this sentence shows that the verb (select) is being directed towards the object (candidate).

6) They take their teachings from their professors WHO they consider to be their role model.

I selected WHO because because the verb in this sentence is being directed towards the subject in the sentence. "They" are the subject and "Professors" are the object. I believe that the verb "teachings" is being referred to the subject in the sentence. Therefore, I chose WHO.

7) They take their teachings from their professors like Mr.Mack WHOM they consider to be their role model.

In this sentence I selected WHOM because in this sentence the object is mentioned by name. I am a bit confused here. But I thought that when an object is mentioned by name then WHOM is the correct choice.

8) There are several people WHOM I believe should be included.

I chose WHOM here because I think the verb (Believe) is directly referring to the object (People).

Respected Richard, I might be wrong in my choices. But I tried my level best to make the correct choice. My choices might be wrong. But I am still trying to master this very tricky aspect of English language.

I am anticipating your kind reply.

Thank you.

Answer
Thanks for your continued questions, Ryo. I hope you won't be dismayed, however, when I tell you I can analyze only three (3) of your selections per question. The analysis you require is too complex for me to consider more than that number as part of the same question. I'll be pleased to analyze the others, if you submit them separately--no more than three per question, please.

Note that I've changed your numbers (1,2, and 3) to capital letters (A, B, and C), to save me a bit of time. (If it's not obvious how this saves me time, I'll be happy to explain, should you wish.) I'd appreciate your following this example in the future.

Note also that I've changed so in A to do, which I think is what you meant.

A is correct. You analysis however is a bit faulty. The proposition to takes the object whom. Prepositions don't refer to anything.

B is not correct; correct would be If I had known WHO that was, I would have spoken to him. Whether it's who or whom is determined by an analysis of the dependent clause of which it's a part ("who that was"). In that clause, who is correct, because it's the predicate nominative of the verb was.

C is correct, but again your analysis is a bit faulty. A verb does not refer to an object--it takes an object. Whom is the object of know.  

General Writing and Grammar Help

All Answers


Answers by Expert:


Ask Experts

Volunteer


Richard Johnson

Expertise

I can answer any question--usually the same day--on correct English grammar, usage, and (non-fiction) writing style, based on the American practice. All answers are explained, and I encourage follow-up.

Experience

I'm a retired editor and a lifelong student of this subject. My library includes a great many works to which I've referred through the years. I currently rely largely on the sixteenth edition of The Chicago Manual of Style.

Publications
For over 30 years I edited the newsletter of my own organization, which had different names but was last known as NotBarter.com.

Education/Credentials
BA, Brooklyn College. Advanced studies in economics and political science.

Awards and Honors
For many years a member of Mensa.

©2016 About.com. All rights reserved.