Once upon a time (or maybe last week), the Queen of Grammar Geeks sought the advice of her trusty mirror to help guide her kingdom in the correct use of the pronouns who and whom. As the word mavens at Writer’s Relief can attest, it is a dilemma writers have struggled with for years. The Queen decided to reflect on the issue and get some answers.
Who vs. Whom: A Reflection On Which Is Correct
“Mirror, mirror, on the wall, is it who or whom that’s best of all?”
“My Queen,” the mirror responded, “I’m prepared to offer you some grammar insight. The main difference between who and whom is that who refers to the subject of the sentence and whom is used as an object of a verb or a preposition.”
“Well,” answered the Queen, “I certainly have experience dealing with subjects! I also have some knowledge of verbs. But what’s this preposition thing? Wait. Is that the big rally happening in the neighboring country of Spellcheck?”
“No, my Queen. That’s a revolution. Very different. However, as you are aware, there is an ongoing battle over who vs. whom that has been raging for a long time. Let me give you some examples to help you better understand their differences:
“Who used as a subject: Notice these are all questions.
- Who’s crying now?
- Who is it that loves the band Journey? Me.
- Who’ll stop the rain?
- Who doesn’t love Creedence Clearwater Revival?
- Who is coming up with these questions? (Blog editor’s note.)
“Whom used as an object: Not always in the form of a question, though.
- For Whom the Bell Tolls (Blog writer’s note: So, what. I’m a Hemingway fan. Big deal.) (Blog editor’s note: We are going to have to talk.)
- Whom do you believe? (This one is tricky but “you” is actually the subject. You believe whom?)
- To whom it may concern:
- I do not know with whom you shall go to the Royal Ball.”
“Are you serious?” the Queen asked. “How can you not know who wants to take me to the Royal Ball?”
“Who wants to take me to the Royal Ball? Very good example of using who as a subject, my Queen. Now try using whom.”
“Huh? With whom are you speaking?” the Queen asked, confused.
“Great job! My work here is done.”
“No! Wait. That was an accident. I need more help,” she pleaded. “How will I explain the difference between who and whom to my kingdom if I’m still not sure which pronoun I should use?”
“Okay, simply remember this magical trick when in doubt, and you’ll never be wrong.”
Amazing Grammar Tip Coming Up Now! It’s So Simple, It’s Almost Like Magic!
Substitute “he” or “she” in the sentence where you would use who/whom. If the sentence still makes sense, then use who. Otherwise, try substituting “him” or “her”—if the sentence then makes sense, use whom.
The Queen studied the looking glass, which appeared to be half full of itself, and said, “Let me try this out using one of your examples above.
“Who’s crying now? Hmmm… He’s crying now fits. Him crying now does not. So who is the correct pronoun.
“For whom the bell tolls. Let’s see. The bell tolls for he can’t be right. The bell tolls for him sounds much better, so whom must be the correct pronoun in this case. Hey, this stuff really works. I think I got it! Now, just one last question.”
“Yes, my Queen.”
She leaned in closer to the mirror and smiled. “Do you see any spinach in my teeth? I have to go talk to the royal accountants about the pastry budget for tomorrow’s Ball, and I want to look good.”
“No, my Queen, but should you have any other grammar questions, feel free to check out some of these links.”
Dear Grammar: It’s Not Me, It’s You. Or Is It I?
Question: What’s your biggest grammar pet peeve?
This is one of my biggest struggles. I learned the he/him trick in high school but forgot it. Thanks for reminding me!
What about who vs that? I learned who is for people and that is for things. Now everyone (including teachers!) say that for everything. Drives me crazy!
It drives us crazy, too!