As referenced in this week’s edition of Tip of the Week, we’ve started our overview of a subject that leaves even some native English speakers confused: who vs. whom. Here’s a quick recap before we move on:

There’s no questioning that ‘who’ is the more commonly used of the two, especially in questions. For example:

~Who is your favorite writer?

~Who left the light on?

However, consider the following questions:

~To whom are we sending the letter?

~Whom will she invite to the party?

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Why do we use whom in these questions? The answer lies in a basic grammar principle: subjects and objects. To make the correct choice between ‘who’ and ‘whom,’ we need to figure out which position the word takes in the sentence.

In the ‘who’ examples above, the word ‘who’ is the subject in each question. However, in the ‘whom’ examples, the word ‘whom’ is the object. In order to help ourselves understand this idea better, we can consider the answers to these questions:

~Who left the light on? Henry left the light on. (Henry is the subject of this sentence)

~Whom will she invite to the party? She’ll invite Hank to the party. (‘Whom’ refers to Hank, which is the object in this sentence)

Despite this subject/object rule, ‘whom’ sounds very formal and dated to many English speakers, and so they’ll simply use ‘who’ in all situations. Notice that although this may be considered a case of “breaking the rules” when it comes to strict grammatical definitions, using ‘who’ in all of your sentences will almost never be deemed wrong.

~Who are we sending the letter to?

~Who will she invite to the party?

However, it’s important to note that in one situation, the use of ‘whom’ is mandatory, and it’s when we use it together with a quantifier. Quantifiers are expressions that describe the scope (quantity) of something we describe, like ‘all,’ ‘some,’ ‘many,’ ‘most,’ etc. Consider the following examples:

~Thanks to the protestors, many of whom were veterans, the government got the message.

~My friends, most of whom play football, are quite athletic.

To practice what you’ve learned here, try the practice exercise!

A. Edstrom

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