When to Use Whom: Tips, Tricks, and a Quiz

Who or Whom, which is right?

Deciding between who and whom can be challenging, even for people who consider themselves well-versed in the English language. Native speakers often say the word “who” when they should be saying “whom.” Because so many people get this particular grammar rule wrong in everyday speech, it’s worth investing extra time and energy to learn proper usage. You won’t regret it! By taking the time to learn the difference between “who” and “whom,” you’ll become a stronger writer. Especially in formal writing, it’s easy to make a bad impression by using the word “whom” incorrectly.

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The He/Him Test

To begin, the simplest way to determine the correct word is to replace “who” or “whom” with the same part of speech. Try another object pronoun (also called objective pronoun) or subject pronoun (also called subjective pronoun). See if you can substitute the mystery word for either “he” or “him.” When you can replace the word with “him,” you should use “whom,” another objective pronoun. When “he” fits, you should use “who,” another subjective pronoun. You can remember that “him” and “whom” go together—and end with the same letter.

Examples:

Who/whom is hungry?

He is hungry. (Subjective pronoun)

With who/whom did you argue?

I argued with him. (Objective pronoun)

You thanked who/whom?

You thanked him. (Objective pronoun)

Notice that in the second sentence we had to flip around the phrasing in order to determine which word—”he” or “him”—fit best. That’s quite common. Often, in order to replace the word, you’ll need to restate the phrase so that the subject and verb come first, followed by the object. When who/whom appears as an interrogative pronoun, try answering the question as a way of rephrasing the sentence with a subject-verb-object construction. 

Here’s another example with an interrogative pronoun:

Example: Who/whom could she ask?

Now, we’ll answer the question. 

She could ask him

In this example, the mystery word is acting as the object of the verb “to ask.” You would never say “She could ask he.” For that reason, “whom,” the objective pronoun, is correct.

Linking Verbs

When you use linking verbs, they describe a state of being, rather than an action. If you use a pronoun with a linking verb, you should always select a subjective pronoun. That’s a rule that has nothing to do with who/whom. It’s just one of those things that makes linking verbs special! 

It is I.

It was she.

This is he. 

Knowing that, you’ll have a much easier time choosing between “who” and “whom.” You’ll want to choose the subjective pronoun any time you see a linking verb in a sentence with only one clause. Just remember the simple trick: if you see a linking verb, choose “who” in a simple sentence. 

It is I. 

Who is it? It is who I say it is. 

It was she.

Who was it? It was who I thought. 

This is he. 

Who is this? This is who pulled the fire alarm. 

How to Use Whoever and Whomever

Use “whoever” and “whomever” the same way you would use “who” and “whom.”

Whoever/whomever knows the answer gets extra points. 

In the example above, you could substitute “he” for the mystery word. He knows the answer. He gets extra points. Once you know you’re looking for a subjective pronoun, the word “whoever” becomes the obvious choice.

Whoever knows the answer gets extra points. 

Now, we get to a more difficult use case. What if the sentence is more complicated? If you see two verbs, try to break down the sentence into parts. 

I trust whoever/whomever you hire.

In this case, you should use the objective case. Why? Well, first, you break the sentence into two sections. 

Section 1:

I trust ____.

Section 2: 

You hire ____.

In both sections of the sentence, you would use the objective case. I trust him. You hire him. Therefore, you should complete the sentence with the word “whomever.” I trust whomever you hire. However, if you broke the sentence into two parts and found that you needed both a subjective and an objective pronoun, then you would choose “whoever” instead.

Here’s an example.

I trust whoever/whomever completes the assignment.

Section 1: 

I trust _____.

Section 2: 

_____ completes the assignment.

This time, you would use both the objective case and the subjective case. I trust himHe completes the assignment. For that reason, you’d choose “whoever.” I trust whoever completes the assignment. 

The Object of a Prepositional Phrase

Sometimes you’ll find the mystery word nested in another clause, like a prepositional phrase. If that’s the case, determine whether the word is an object or a subject of a clause. For prepositional phrases, you’ll always choose “whom” because you need the mystery word to act as the object of the prepositional phrase. 

Here are some examples of how the word “whom” can be used within a prepositional phrase.

That’s the person about whom I was talking.

For whom were you named?

My aunt, with whom I traveled to Europe, turned eighty. 

The person from whom I got my car lied about the mileage. 

Those sentences may sound a bit old fashioned, but they follow the rules of proper grammar!

To recap, you should use the words “whom” and “whomever,” on the occasions when you need an objective pronoun. These words work well as the objects of phrases (like prepositional phrases) or the objects of sentences. Either way, without ever diagramming a sentence, you should be able to use the he/him test to decide whether the word “whom” is appropriate. If you’re looking at a particularly challenging sentence, try breaking it into sections to see which word fits best.

Test Your Skills

1) The last plate goes to whoever/whomever.

2) The last plate goes to whoever/whomever gets home first. 

3) He was the one who/whom took the prize. 

4) Who/whom is calling?

Answers: 1) whomever 2) whoever 3) who 4) who

Sources:

  1. https://www.thoughtco.com/who-and-whom-1857114
  2. https://www.english-grammar-revolution.com/who-vs-whom.html
  3. https://www.proofreadnow.com/blog/who-or-whom-get-it-right-every-time-with-these-3-tricks
  4. http://www.whitesmoke.com/janestraus_6

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