Grammar 6 min read

Who vs. Whom: a Quick Guide for Which one to use

Main Takeaways:

  • Who and whom are both pronouns.
  • When you’re referring to the subject, use who.
  • When it’s the object you’re referring to, use whom.
  • Replace who or whom with he or him to figure out the correct word to use.
  • Sometimes you may have to break the who or whom rule for the sake of readability or to prevent awkward and unnatural phrasing.

Who and whom are two words that sound very much alike. However, that striking similarity just makes it all the more confusing for writers to figure out which term to use.

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But, it all comes down to knowing how those pronouns are used.

Stay tuned as we break down who vs. whom and give you a handy trick to help keep it all straight.

who vs. whom: Who and whom are both pronouns.
Who and whom are both pronouns. But don’t be tricked. They may sound the same, but they are not interchangeable.

Who vs. Whom: What’s the Difference?

Who and whom are both pronouns. Depending on your sentence structure, you can easily determine which one to choose.

Ask yourself the following:

  • Are you referring to the subject of the sentence? If so, use the pronoun who.
  • Is the object of the sentence what you’re referring to? If so, use the pronoun whom.

Here’s a trick that you can use if you get stuck. When deciding on whom vs. who, think of it as he vs. him.

  1. If you can answer the question with “he,” you’ll want to use who—no “m” at the end!
  2. However, if you can answer the query with “him,” you’ll want to use whom. They both have an “m” at the end!

But wait! What if you’re talking about a woman instead of a man? No worries—we only used “he” or “him” because it makes it easier to highlight the “m” connection. While “whom or “him” is a quick and memorable mnemonic device, the same idea applies to “she” or “her.”

  • If you can answer the question with “she,” you’ll want to use who.
  • On the other hand, if the answer to the question is “her,” you’ll want to use whom.

How do you use Who in a Sentence?

Remember: If you can replace who or whom with “he,” you should be using who.
Who or Whom went to the store?
Him should go to the store.
He should go to the store.
Who should go to the store?

Of course, not all sentences are questions, but the same rule applies. In that case, using the she/her–he/him test requires reordering the sentence first.

He asked a salesman who/whom he believed had the answer.

Flip the sentence around and switch who/whom with he/him. Remember, you’re acting on the subject of the sentence — in this case, that’s “salesman.”

He believed he/him had the answer.

Because “he” is the best fit, you’ll want to choose “who” instead of “whom.”

He asked a salesman who he believed had the answer.
Always remember that “who” refers to the subject while “whom” refers to the object of your sentence.

Who vs. Whom Example Sentences?

Wondering when to use whom? There are many ways to use whom in a sentence. All correct examples follow the he vs. him rule. Remember: If you can answer the question with “him,” then you should be using “whom.”

To who/whom do I owe my thanks?

You would answer this with, “I owe my thanks to him.” Using the m=m part of the who vs. whom rule, we get:

To whom do I owe my thanks?
To who do I owe my thanks?

Here are some more examples:

With whom did you go to Barbados?
At whom are you angry?

When the sentence isn’t a question, the same rule applies. You just may have to do some reordering first to find your answer.

I put a lot of thought into who/whom got the other half of my candy bar.

Think of the sentence as He/him got the other half of my candy bar.”

I put a lot of thought into who got the other half of my candy bar.
I put a lot of thought into whom got the other half of my candy bar.

Is it With Who or With Whom?

Good question!

There’s a tendency to think “with whom is always correct. That’s probably because it sounds so spiffy and proper. You can practically see a peanut with a monocle saying, “With whooooom will you be attending my birthday soirée?”

While that example is correct, it’s not because it’s fancier. We know that whom is the best option because it is the object of the preposition.

We can also refer back to our he vs. him test to help decide on who or whom.

With whom did you see the movie?

You saw the movie with him, not he, so “with whom is correct.

Is it True Who is Better Than Whom?

Sometimes it seems like one option is more proper than the other. Whom may feel like a more proper term to use. Who, on the other hand, may seem more accessible. In reality, one isn’t better than the other. They’re just different.

There is one other thing to consider, though. While there are instances in which whom or who is technically correct, it may still be a wrong choice. Why? When you’re writing for clarity, go with the option that’s easiest to understand. That may mean reworking your sentence to exclude who/whom entirely.

The teacher, whom I knew very well, gave me a wonderful reference for my college application.
Whom should I talk to about getting my gym pass upgraded?
In this image,
In this image, “who” refers to the recipient of the gift, the kid (subject). Meanwhile, “whom” in the kid’s question relates to the person who sent the gift (object of the kid’s curiosity).

According to basic grammar rules, whom is definitely correct in both examples. Still, neither sentence is necessarily something the average person would say. Maybe not even a peanut with a monocle.

If you’re writing dialogue, you may end up breaking grammar rules to use something less cumbersome. For example, Who should I talk to about getting my gym pass upgraded?”  Sure, it’s not technically correct, but it flows better.

If you’re writing a term paper, it’s probably a better idea to be grammatically correct. It all depends on whom you are writing (see what we did there?).

Read More: How To Use Transition Words Perfectly Every Time

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Krista Grace Morris

Krista heads up Marketing and Content Creation here at INK. From Linguistics and History to puns and memes, she's interested in the systems we create to share our ideas with each other.

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