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Who or Whom?

If you’re puzzled by when to use who versus whom, you first need to understand that both words serve as pronouns. Pronouns are parts of speech that take the place of other nouns. For example, instead of saying “Bob’s hat”, you could instead say, “his hat”, and ‘his’ would be the pronoun.

The next thing that you need to consider when deciding between who and whom is whether you need a subjective or an objective pronoun. Starting with the basic sentence form, almost every sentence has a subject, a verb, and an object. For example, in “I like apples”, I is the subject, like is the verb, and apples is the object, or the clause that receives or is influenced by the action of the verb. I’ll give you another example: “Royal Roads University is in Colwood.” In that sentence, Royal Roads University is the subject, is (which is a form of the verb "to be") is the verb, and Colwood is the object. In case you’re curious, "in" is a preposition, but that’s a topic for another tip on another day!

If you’re attempting to use who or whom instead of the subject or object of the sentence, the pronoun needs to perform the same function as the original noun. Accordingly, when deciding whether to use who, which is a subjective pronoun, or whom, which is the objective pronoun, consider the word being replaced by either pronoun. For example, in “who is speaking?”, the speaker is asking about the subject of the sentence: “Who is speaking? Mark is speaking.” Therefore, who is the subjective pronoun. However, in “Margaret is speaking with whom?”, the speaker asks to have the object identified: “Margaret is speaking with whom? Margaret is speaking with Mark.” Therefore, whom is the objective pronoun. Strictly speaking, the correct form of the preceding question is “With whom is Margaret speaking?”; however, for the purposes of the example, it’s clearer to have whom at the end of the sentence in order to show whom's objective role.

There you have it: use who when you need a subjective pronoun; use whom when you require an objective pronoun. If you’re still (or more) confused, you can find more information at "Who or Whom? That or Which?", there’s a great Grammar Girl posting on the topic, and you’re welcome to contact the Writing Centre with any questions.

Theresa Bell
Manager, Blended Learning Success