Use Who and Whom Properly

The use of who and whom has, surprisingly, not evolved out of written usage. Most people are uncomfortable making the who/whom determination and know they can't trust their ear to guide them.

In fact, the rules are clear and relatively easy to understand and remember. The basic rule is that you should use who or whoever when the word you're replacing is the subject of the sentence or the subject of a dependent clause (when you can substitute he, she, they, I, or we). Use whom or whomever when the word you're replacing is the object of a verb or a preposition (when you can substitute him, her, them, me, or us). Consider these examples:

Who was there?

I will respond to whoever provides the answers. You saw whom?

I will consult with whomever I want.

The easiest way to confirm that you're using who and whom correctly is to follow this three-step process:

1. Identify all the verbs in the sentence.

2. Identify all the subjects that go with these verbs.

3. If the word you're looking to replace is the subject of the sentence or a dependent clause, use who or whoever. If the word you're looking to replace is not the subject, use whom or whomever.

There is only one exception: The verb to be requires the use of who regardless of where it appears in the sentence. For example, in analyzing whether to replace him (or her) with who or whom in the following sentence, use the three-step model:

3. The word him (or her) is not the subject of the sentence; therefore, it is correct to use whom.

I know whom?

But now consider replacing the word he (or she) with who or whom in this sentence:

3. The word he (or she) is not the subject of the sentence; therefore, it would seem to be correct to use whom. However, the word am is a form of the verb to be and as such is the exception to the rule. Thus it is correct to write:

Use this three-step process to analyze sentences until you have trained your ear sufficiently to make the determination automatically. If you're alert for the one exception (any form of the verb to be), you should find it easy to make the who/whom determination correctly every time.

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