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When to Use Whom

The Mystery of 'Whom' is Solved! Here's When You Should Use It

'Who' is right? It depends on 'whom' you ask! Confused? To clear your confusion, read this article to find out the proper use of whom, who, and whoever in a sentence.
Suketu Mehta
Last Updated: Mar 17, 2018
English grammar can get confusing at times, and that's especially when you try to get technically correct with the language. This is because there are a lot of minute differences in usage of various articles (a, an, the), prepositions (on, in, at), and pronouns (who, whom, whomever). As these words seem small, people tend to consider them inconsequential, and therefore disregard them when it comes to their appropriate usage. One such common question is regarding the proper usage of 'who' and 'whom'.

'Whom' Instead of 'Who'

There is a certain difference between possessive forms, objects, and subjects. It is necessary to understand this difference as both the words are co-related. Let us look at examples:

Subject (Action Doer):
  • He goes to work everyday.
  • She likes watching television.
  • We love eating continental food.
Object (Action Recover)
  • Jane knows him.
  • The professors like her.
  • That boy winked at us.
Possessive Form (Informs Something Belongs to the Person)
  • I like his shirt.
  • Her cycle is stolen.
  • The coach liked our performance.
The three examples of each type help us understand the difference between subject, object, and possessive. Now, let us see how these differences will help us in understanding the correct usage of who, whom, and whose.

Who - Subject Pronoun
  • Who goes to work everyday?
  • Who likes watching television?
  • Who loves eating food?
We realize that whenever there is a subject represented in a sentence through words like he, she, and we, 'who' is used since it is a subject pronoun. It is used either to ask which person has performed the action or which person is the way he/she is.

Whom - Object Pronoun
  • Whom does Jane know?
  • Whom do the professors like?
  • Who did the boy wink at?
Looking at these sentences, we figure out that 'whom' is used whenever we are referring to the object using words like, him, her, and us, since 'whom' is an object pronoun. It is generally asked to know which person is facing the action.

Whose - Possessive Pronoun
  • Whose shirt do you like?
  • Whose cycle is stolen?
  • Who liked our performance?
The sentences above bring to our notice that whenever words like his, her, and our are used, 'whose' needs to be used, as it is a possessive pronoun. This word will assist us in determining to which person a particular thing belongs to.

When do We Use Whom or Who in a Sentence?

The distinction given above for whom, who, and whomever should help you whenever you try to incorporate them in sentences. Since 'who' and 'whoever' are subjective pronouns, they are used in the subject, while objective pronouns like 'whom' and 'whomever' are used in the object.

Test #1

Who is that woman in a pink dress?
The children, three of whom were handicapped, made this basket.
It was, Sean Connery, I think, who was the first James Bond.

In the first sentence above, we see that 'who' is clearly the subject, while in the second sentence, 'whom' is the object. In the third sentence after the words 'I think', the clause which starts has a subject which is represented by the word 'who'. In such sentences, it is easy to identify the subject and object, and therefore usage of 'who/whom' becomes simple. You just need to substitute he/she or him/her instead of who/whom. If he/she fit the bill, you need to use who, while him/her suggest using whom as the correct substitute.

Test #2

I decided to go out with whoever asked me out first.

The second test involves checking the sentence and finding out whether every verb in the sentence has a subject or not. Let us dismantle the sentence above to understand this concept better.
  • The subject is "I" for the verb 'decided'
  • "he/whoever" is the subject for the verb 'asked me out'.
  • "he/whoever" is the subject of the verb 'first'.
The above explanation shows us that all the subject words are in the nominative case, and therefore we must use 'who'. This test works best for more complex sentences as it is a step ahead of the first test. Both these tests should be more than sufficient for you to figure out when to use 'whom' or 'who' in a sentence. In case you are still confused, you can try out the third test.

Test #3

It is mandatory that you use the previous two tests before moving on to this one, as it has more chances of leading you astray. This one instructs you to go with whichever word sounds appropriate in the sentence. This may help, as not a lot of people are experts in grammar, and therefore do not understand the minuscule difference in the usage of both these words. There is no guarantee this method will always work but, you are sure to be right more often than wrong.

Now that you have become experts on this one bit after reading this article, I leave you with a sentence, which is more like a question. Whom/Who should I say is calling? All of you should get this one right!