As a beginner in English, you may find who and whom are a bit confusing. However, they are clearly having different function and role in English. In this section we will discuss about who and whom, so you can clearly understand how to use them in sentences and tell whether it is use who or whom.
Using “Who” in English
In relative pronoun, we use who as a subject pronoun such as “I”, “they”, “we”, “he”, “she”, and so on. We also use who to ask which person is involved or performs an action (in interrogative sentences). Let’s take a look a couple of examples below.
Who as relative pronouns:
- The person who looked for you are now waiting inside.
- The new student who has long and wavy hair is my neighbour.
- The girl who is standing near the fence is my sister.
Who in interrogative sentences:
- Who are you?
- Who will come to Sarah party tomorrow?
- Who would like to have a cup of tea with milk?
- Who made the fried rice? It tastes great.
Using “Whom” in English
In relative pronoun, whom is used as an object pronoun such as “them”, “him”, “her”, and so on. We also use whom to ask which person receives an action. Whom usually comes after a preposition in a sentences. Let’s take a look a couple of examples below.
Whom as relative pronoun:
- The man whom you just met at the lobby is the new boss here.
- Audrey is my youngest sister whom I really care about.
Whom in interrogative sentences:
- Whom did Andrea invite to come to her party?
- Whom will the teacher blame for the failure of their group presentation?
- Do you know the woman who Mira talked to this morning?
How to tell whether it needs who or whom in interrogative sentences?
You may find who or whom is more confusing in interrogative sentence than in positive or negative sentence. You can tell whether a pronoun is the subject or object of a verb by substituting the “possible answer/imaginary answer” with subject pronoun (he, she, etc.) and object pronoun (him, her, etc.).
If subject pronoun fits, you should use who but when object pronoun fits, then you should use whom. Keep in mind that some temporarily rearrangement to the sentence may be needed here while you test it. Let’s take a look the examples.
- Who/Whom drank my milk in the fridge?
Let’s try to substitute “he” and “him”, He drank my milk in the fridge or Him drank my milk in the fridge. In this case, “he” works fine and “him” doesn’t. That means the right word is who.
- He drank my milk in the fridge. (Correct)
- Him drank my milk in the fridge. (Incorrect)
Let’s move to another example:
- Who/Whom should I talk to about starting an online business?
Try to substitute “she” and “her”, I should talk to she or I should talk to her. The pronoun “her” works here, so the word you need in this case is whom.
- Whom should I talk to about starting an online business? (Correct)
Another way to determine whether it needs who or whom is by using this questions “Is the sentence talking about someone who is doing something?”
- Brian drives his father’s car to campus.
Yes, in this sentence we are talking about someone (Brian) doing something (drives), so we use who for the interrogative sentence.
- Who drives his father’s car to campus?
Now let’s take a look at this sentence:
- The car is driven to campus by Gina.
No, in this sentence the subject (car) isn’t performing the action. So, use whom for the interrogative sentences.
- By whom is the car driven to campus?
- The car is driven to campus by whom?
If you think the whom examples above sound prissy and awkward, then you’re not the only one. In fact, most people don’t use whom very often in daily spoken English or in casual speech or writing. Mostly, whom is only used in well-established phrase or in a formal situation, such as “to whom it may concern” or “To whom should I address the application letter, sir?”. Some people never use it because it’s very formal and it’s not unusual to hear.
Well, that’s all our discussion about who or whom in a sentence. I hope it could help you understanding the use of both words in appropriate way.