Seriously, When Do You Actually Use “Whom”?

Monday, April 82 min read

There are certain word rules that can stump even the most eloquent speaker — like "lay vs. lie," "than vs. then," and "effect vs. affect," for example. But in the English-speaking world, the "who vs. whom" debate takes its rightful place as one of the greatest language puzzlers.

How do we solve the problem? Is the answer to stop using "whom" altogether? Is it simply an archaic, outdated way of saying "who"? Or does it have its place in modern times? Read on for a handy trick that will ensure you always know which "w" word to use, in any context.

The Real Rule

The technical rule is as follows:

"Who" is used when referring to the subject of the sentence.

"Whom" is used when referring to the object of a verb or preposition.

Now, let’s turn that into something practical and useful:

When a person is the focus of a sentence, i.e. they are the ones who have completed an action or are being discussed, they are the subject. This is when you use “who.”

For example:

Who showed you how to do that?
Who ate all my cake?
Who wrote this article?

When a person is having (or has had) something done to them, they are no longer the subject, but the object of the verb. This is when you use “whom.”

For example:

Whom do you like best?
Whom are you going to meet at the coffee shop?

Sometimes, a preposition (for, to, by, with, about) needs to be used with whom”:
With whom are you going to this party?
This article was written by whom?

Here's the "Who vs. Whom" Trick

This may seem like a lot to process when you're just trying to have a casual conversation, or shoot off a quick reply to your friend’s text. Luckily, there’s a nice and easy trick you can use to solve the "who vs. whom" debate.

If the sentence or the answer to your question works with “him” or “her,” then “whom” is the correct choice. If, however, it’s better to respond with “he” or “she,” then you should use “who.”

For example:

Who ate all my cake? He ate all my cake!

Who showed you how to do that? She showed me how to do that.

Whom are you going to meet? I’m going to meet her.

With whom are you going to this party? I’m going to this party with him.

Another memory trick: "him, her, and whom" all end in consonants, while "he, she, and who" all end in vowels.

Now your mission is to spread the word! You'll never find yourself wondering if you should have pulled out "whom" again.

Photo credit: Cinthia Becher/ Unsplash

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