Whoever vs. whomever?

Whoever is a subject pronoun that functions similarly to the pronouns he, she, and they, while whomever is an object pronoun that’s used like him, her, and them. We use whoever to describe the subject of a verb (the noun in action) and use whomever as the object of a verb (the noun receiving the action).

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What is the difference between whoever vs. whomever?

Whoever and whomever are pronouns that are used similarly to pronouns like he/him, she/her, and they/them. What causes most of the confusion between each word is that whoever is a subject pronoun and whomever is an object pronoun. In other words: 

  • Whoever is the subject of the verb and represents the person or people taking action in the sentence.  
  • Whomever is the object of a verb and represents the person or people acted upon. 

Subject pronouns vs. object pronouns?

Subject pronouns are objects that perform the action of verbs, while object pronouns are the direct object of a verb or preposition. In case you’re wondering, a direct object is typically a noun that receives the action of a verb or adverb in a sentence. 

Like the personal pronouns she, he, or they, whoever acts as a subject pronoun. For example,

She loves sweaters.
He loves sweaters.
They love sweaters.
Whoever loves sweaters. 

In contrast, whomever acts like the pronouns her, his, and them because they’re used as object pronouns. 

The sweater is great for whomever.
The sweaters belong to whomever

For these two examples, the word whomever is the direct object of the sentence adverb (great) and verb (belong) and is, therefore, the object pronoun. If we were to replace the word whomever with her, him, or them, the sentences are still grammatically correct. Let’s take a look:

The sweater is great for her.
The sweater is great for him.
The sweater is great for them.

To summarize, try to remember the following equivalencies:

Subject pronouns: He/she/they = who = whoever = whose
Object pronouns: Him/her/them = whom = whomever

Whoever and whomever are also tricky to use because both terms appear to use “who.” But, in reality, the term whomever uses the word whom–– and there’s a big difference between the two! 

Who vs. whom?

As explained through a previous article, we use pronouns like who or whom in place of a person or animal for phrases like,

Who is this?
Who are you?
Who did this?

Or,

This belongs to whom?
I’m meeting whom?

When using words like who and whom, we’re essentially answering such questions before they’re asked. But the mystery is solved if we directly outline how whomever and whoever are connected and where they are not: 

  • Who is a subjective pronoun and whom is its objective form. 
  • Whose is the possessive form of whom and who.
  • Whoever is a subjective pronoun and whomever is its objective form.

What does whoever mean?

Whoever is a relative and interrogative pronoun used for any person, no matter who they are. We can use the word whoever in any grammatical sense except in the case of a possessive pronoun. For example,

You can love whoever you want. 

We use the word whoever as a relative pronoun for phrases that take the place of “the person,” “the people who,” “any person who,” or “regardless of who.” 

Whoever wants to eat ice cream needs to come over now. 
We serve any guest, whoever they support politically. 

When there’s a question to “who is who” for questions, whoever is used as a singular pronoun. For example,

Whoever did this is going to pay. 
The shirt belongs to Gary, whoever that is.
Whoever would do such a thing? 
Show yourself, whoever you are!

Synonyms

Everyone, people, somebody, someone. Related to “whatever.” 

Antonyms

Nobody, no one, unknown. 

What does whomever mean?

The word whomever is a pronoun used for the objective case of whoever. What this means is the word whomever is used as the object of a preposition or verb. For example,

I can befriend and love whomever I choose. 

Synonyms

Anyone, whoever, whichever. 

Antonyms

Nobody, no one. 

English grammar guide for using whomever and whoever

If you’re confused about the difference between whomever and whoever, trying to navigate terms like subject pronouns, objective pronouns, or “object of the preposition,” can make you feel like you’ve opened the pandora’s box of the English language. The words seem simple enough, but there are several basic grammar rules to consider before choosing the right word

The following three lessons can help dust off your grammar basics so that you can use words like whoever and whomever in no time.  

Lesson 1: Subject-verb agreement

As you may know, we create sentences with verbs, nouns, and adjectives, and within every complete sentence, there must be a subject-verb agreement.

For example, 

Example 1: The brother runs.
Example 2: The brothers run.

In either sentence, “the brother” is the sentence subject, and “run” is the verb. If “brother” is singular, the verb “run” must be singular, too (runs). But if “brother” is plural (brothers), then the verb “run” must be plural as well (run). 

You may notice how the letter “s” switch places depending on if the noun is plural or not, and we can think of this “s” as representing “singular.” If the “s” is on the noun, the subject-verb agreement is plural. But if the “s” is on the verb, the subject-verb agreement is singular. 

Lesson 2: Subjective, objective, and possessive cases

When grammarians use the term “case,” they are discussing how pronouns and nouns work together in a sentence. There are three main types of cases that exist, which are the possessive, subjective, and objective case. 

Subjective case

The subjective case, otherwise known as the nominative case, involves sentences where a pronoun or noun acts as the subject of the sentence or a predicate noun. For those who are unsure, a predicate noun follows a “be” verb in sentences. 

Subject noun: I want to visit my cousins. 

Predicate noun: She is a sweetheart. 

In the subjective case, the word whoever must be the subject of an independent clause or the subject of a sentence, which acts as the subject of the sentence. For example,

Whoever is talking needs to be quiet.

Objective case

The objective case involves sentences where a noun or pronoun acts as the object of a preposition, or a direct or indirect object.

Direct object: Wyatt watched the game.

Indirect object: He watched most of the game.

Object of preposition: He yelled at the television.

We can use whomever in the objective case as long as it’s the object of an independent clause that is a direct object in itself. For example,

We will accept whomever you love

Possessive case

The possessive case is used for sentences where the noun or pronoun has ownership over another noun. Possessive pronouns include my/mine, your/yours, his, her/hers, its, our/ours, and their/theirs.

The book is mine. 
His magazine is boring.

It’s easy to tell when a sentence is written in the possessive case because of its use of the apostrophe (‘s) to indicate the possessive noun, but not all possessive nouns use an apostrophe. For example,

Jane Straus’s Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation.
Whose book is this?

The terms who and whom have their own possessive form, “whose,” which is used in a different context than “who’s” with an apostrophe. The word “who’s” is a contraction of “who is,” or “who has,” but “whose” is used to infer ownership. 

Lesson 3: Prepositional phrases

Words like who, whoever, who, and whomever create a lot of trouble for subject-verb agreements when they’re used as prepositional phrases. We use similar types of prepositional phrases, such as that, which, there, and here

A prepositional phrase consists of a preposition, a modifier, and a noun. 

For example,

Example 1:
The brother runs to the store.

The phrase “to the store” contains a preposition (to), a modifier (the), and an object noun (store). 

Example 2:
The brother runs to her.

The second example sentence uses a preposition (to), but instead of using a modifier (the) or object noun (store), it uses a personal pronoun (her) in the objective case. Look familiar, yet? 

Example 3:
The brother runs to whomever
The brothers run to whomever.

It’s within the third example that we see how “whomever” is used differently within prepositional phrases. The phrase “to whomever” contains a preposition (the) and the pronoun (whomever) in the objective case. Also, “whomever” doesn’t need to change with either singular or plural subject-verb agreements.

But what about whoever as a subject pronoun? Here’s your “aha!” moment:

Example 4:
Whoever the brother runs to. 
Whoever the brothers run to. 

The fourth example begins with the pronoun “whoever” in the subjective case and contains either plural or singular phrases with the correct subject-verb agreements. Because whoever is a subject pronoun, we need to use it at the beginning of a prepositional phrase instead of the end. 

How to remember the difference between whoever vs. whomever?

Do you remember how he/she/they are subject pronouns and him/her/them are object pronouns? Well, because they are used similarly in sentences using who/whom, we can replace one pronoun for another to check if we are using words like whoever and whomever correctly:

He/him substitution

Subject pronouns: he = who
Object pronouns: him = whom

To practice, choose the correct word for the following examples:

Example 1: Him/he wants to eat popcorn? 
Incorrect: Whom wants to eat popcorn? (him)
Correct: Who wants to eat popcorn? (he)

Example 2: The judge appointed he/him to a four-year term? 
Incorrect: The judge appointed who to a four-year term? (he)
Correct: The judge appointed whom to a four-year term? (him)

The same he/him rule can work for whoever and whomever, but the trick’s effectiveness depends on whether the sentence is written in the subjective or objective case. In addition, there are times where it makes more sense to add “he/him who,” instead of “he/him” by itself. Just be sure to remember: 

  • Substitute he or “he who” for whoever for the subjective case.
  • Substitute him or “him who” for whomever for the objective case.

Example 3: I’ll give extra credit to he/him answers the question first.  
Incorrect: I’ll give extra credit to whomever answers the question first. (him)
Correct: I’ll give extra credit to whoever answers the question first. (he who)

Example 4: We can party with him/he.
Incorrect: We can party with whoever. (he)
Correct: We can party with whomever. (him)

Test Yourself!

Whoever? Whomever? What’s the correct choice? Flex your grammar skills with the following multiple-choice questions.

  1. Review the following sentence: “We drove to the stadium.”
    The underlined section is an example of what grammar term? 
    1. Independent clause
    2. Dependent clause
    3. Prepositional phrase
    4. Dependent clause and prepositional phrase
  2. Which pronoun is used most similarily to “he”? 
    1. Whose
    2. Whom
    3. Who
    4. Who’s 
  3. Which pronoun is used most similarily to “him”? 
    1. Who
    2. Whom 
    3. Who’s
    4. Whose
  4. Which pronoun is used most similarily to “his”? 
    1. Whom
    2. Who
    3. Whose
    4. Who’s
  5. The word “whoever” is a  __________ and “whomever” is a __________.
    1. Object pronoun, subject pronoun
    2. Objective case, subjective case
    3. Subject pronoun, object pronoun
    4. Subjective case, objective case

Answers

  1. D
  2. C
  3. B
  4. C
  5. C

Sources

  1. Benner, M. “Subject-Verb Agreement.” Online Writing Support, Towson University, 2000.
  2. Grammar Handbook: Noun and Pronoun Case.” Center for Writing Studies, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2013.
  3. Using Who, Whom, Whoever, and Whomever Correctly.” Center for Writers, Cameron University, n.d.
  4. Whoever.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2019.
  5. Whomever.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2019.
  6. Whoever.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2019.
  7. Whomever.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2019.
  8. Whoever.” Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus, Third Edition, Philip Lief Group, 2013.