“Who” vs. “Whom”

Is there an owl in here? The two words who and whom are often misused. What’s the difference? Let’s find out.

Who

Who is used as a subject in a sentence. That means it is the thing doing the action.

Who is in charge of the blog?
Jack is in charge of the blog and everything else on the website.

Who made this coffee? It’s terrible.
I think Susan did. [I think Susan made the coffee.]

Whom

Whom is the the object of an action (a verb) or a preposition. That means it is the thing receiving the action.

To whom are we sending this email?
Whom are you calling?

That’s Complicated!

There’s an easy way to remember when to use which:

  • Use who if you can replace it with he/she/they
  • Use whom if you can replace it with him/her/them

Who made this coffee?
He made this coffee?
To whom is the package addressed to?
[The package is addressed to him?]

However, having said that, don’t worry about it too much. In everyday spoken English, nearly everyone uses only who. For example, take this sentence:

To whom is the package addressed?

This sentence is grammatically correct. However, it is not a typical American English sentence – it would sound overly formal. It is very unlikely that someone would use this sentence in real life. Instead, they would say something along these lines:

Who is the package addressed to?
Who’s package is this?

While technically incorrect (it should still be whom), this sentence is much more common.

So, in conclusion: use whom when writing formally. Otherwise, don’t worry about it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *