Ah, the age-old question: do I use who or whom in my sentence, and how can I tell the difference?

Far and away the most common mistake I’ve come across in the written and spoken English language is right here. My wife will attest to the fact, too, that any time we’re sitting down watching a tv show or movie, it’s a rare thing that I make it through the entire feature without shouting, “It’s whom!” I will admit, though, that when I first took up writing, I didn’t really understand the difference either, so let’s clear it up, shall we? I’ll even throw in a little trick I’ve learned to help me get it right every single time. 😉

First of all, to know which word is correct in your writing, you need to understand the difference between a subject and an object (subject being the “focus” of the statement and object being the “thing” of the statement). Once you get that down, it should make more sense, because whenever you ask, “Who ate my pizza?” who is the subject (pizza is the object) of the question, and who always takes the subject role in a statement. On the flip-side, whom always takes the object role (sometimes direct and sometimes indirect). So if I asked, “To whom are you referring?” whom is the indirect object of the statement, and  you would be the subject. Clear as mud? Let’s look at a couple other examples.

“Are you the man who ate my pizza? I really wanted that pizza, man!”
In this example, who is the subject of the second clause, “…who ate my pizza” (pizza being the object) and it serves to further define the subject of the first clause, “…the man…”

“To whom does this pizza belong?”
In this example, this pizza is the subject, and whom is an indirect object.

If this still isn’t making sense to you, let me teach you a little trick I always use. When trying to determine which word to use, answer the question and/or reform the statement. When that’s done, who should be replaced by he/she, and whom will be replaced by him/her. After that, it’s just a matter of figuring out which makes sense. Let’s look at the above examples again.

“Are you the man who ate my pizza? I really wanted that pizza, man!”
Answer the question: ____  is the man who ate my pizza.
Would you say, “Him is the man who ate my pizza?” Certainly not, so we know that who is the correct word.

“To whom does this pizza belong?”
Answer the question: This pizza belongs to ____.
Would you say, “This pizza belongs to he?” Of course not!  You’d say, “This pizza belongs to him,” so we know that whom is used correctly.

Once you reform the sentence like that, you can very easily determine which word is appropriate! Cool trick, yeah? I won’t lie to you: some sentences can get really confusing when you’re trying to figure out if who or whom is correct, but take your time, reword it and simplify it as much as you need to, and stick to it. Follow the method I just showed you, and I’m sure you’ll figure it out.


Samuel Blake ǀ @herheart_oncraft
Her Heart Poetry’s ON CRAFT area will be evolving over the coming months. Samuel’s goal is to both educate and inspire readers and writers of all calibres. ON CRAFT articles will be published to teach about a different facet of creative writing.

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