The difference between who and whom: a simple explanation
Originally published 21-03-2020, updated 14-05-2021
It’s common for English learners to get confused as to when to use who and whom. Even native speakers struggle with the correct use of these terms!
The rules of when to use who and whom are actually pretty simple. According to
English grammar rules:
- The word who should be used when the person it’s describing is the subject of a sentence
- The word whom should be used when the person it’s describing is the object of a sentence, or if it comes after a preposition.
In this article, we’ll go over the two terms, when to use each, and give you some rules and examples on how to make the correct choice in the future.
Who vs. Whom: What’s the difference?
In this video, Preply tutor
gives a 2-minute explanation.
A simple rule to chose correctly between who and whom
The best way to remember the difference is with the he/him or she/her rule:
If you can replace who or whom in a sentence with he/she then use who.
If you can replace it with him/her then use whom.
See the example below:
- Alan was playing the guitar. > Who was playing the guitar? He was playing the guitar.
- I saw Ivan at the party. > Whom did you see at the party? I saw him at the party.
As can be seen from these examples, the rule is: if you can answer the question using he, then it’s correct to use who in the interrogative sentence. If you answer using him, then use whom.
- The policeman was talking to the man. > To whom was the policeman talking?
- The man who was carrying the bags is Mary’s brother.
- The girl whom I saw at the party is my friend’s ex-girlfriend.
- The girl to whom the ugly man was talking is Jim’s daughter.
In these sentences, who is the subject of the sentence, while whom is the object. Whom also is used after prepositions.
Times when you can use either
9 times out of 10, you can actually get away with using who and whom interchangeably. Whom is not used frequently in modern conversational English, but it is used in formal writing and speech.
If a sentence is long or complicated, making it difficult to separate the preposition and noun, preposition + whom can be used in conversational speech as well.
- Who did you see at the party?
- Whom did you see at the party? (not common, but acceptable)
- Who was the ugly man talking to?
- To whom was the ugly man talking?
- Who can we call in case of emergency?
- Whom can we call in case of emergency?
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When to use whom (examples!)
Here are some very polite phrases used in telephone communication instead of simple, neutral expressions:
- Whom did you want me to contact?
- With whom did you go to the meeting?
- To whom it may concern. This phrase is used
to address someone in written form formally
– the person responsible for caring for the matter about which we are writing – when we don’t know the name of the person.
The difference between who and whom is generally more important in
. Most of the time, if you use the wrong one in speech, even native speakers probably won’t notice. However, you should try to choose the correct version if you’re writing an important document, and it’s good to be aware of the proper rules.
I would suggest that you can come up with your phrases using who and whom to remember better how to use them correctly.
Chuyên mục: Kiến thức