Seriously, when do you actually use “whom”?

2 min read

There are certain word rules that can stump even the most eloquent speaker. Lay vs. lie, than vs. then and effect vs. affect have all been known to stump us from time to time. But in the English-speaking world, the who vs. whom debate takes its rightful place as one of the greatest language conundrums.

So how do we solve the problem? Is the answer to stop using "whom" altogether? Is it simple an archaic, outdated way of saying "who"? Or does it have its place in our language in 2019?

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 plain, understandable English:

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 anyway?

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?
Whom are you going to embarrass?

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 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 rule you can use to test out your “who”s and “whom”s.

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

For example: Who ate all my cake? He ate all my cake!

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

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

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

So, just remember: “who” goes with “he” and “whom” goes with “him”.

Now your mission is to spread the word! Because unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there who just aren’t quite up to speed.

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