English Grammar: The Difference between Who and Whom

Foreword: The word whom is considered a little old fashioned and/or formal nowadays. In North America, people rarely use whom. In other words, you could live your life without using whom and people probably might not notice.

To Whom It May Concern: The Difference in Grammar

Who is a subject pronoun for people.

Whom is an object pronoun for people.

Let me explain with an example.

Who kissed whom?

Jack      kissed     Jill.

(subject) + (verb) + (object)

When we make questions about the subject, we use Who. For example,

Q: Who kissed Jill? (We want to know the subject)

A: Jack kissed Jill.

Who is a pronoun. Pronouns replace nouns. Here, ‘Who’ is replacing the noun ‘Jack,’ which is the subject of the sentence.

On the other hand, when we make questions about the object, we use Whom. For example.

Q: Whom did Jack kiss? (We want to know the object of the verb; we want to know received the action of kiss.)

A: Jack kissed Jill.

That’s it.

Who & Whom in Adjective Clauses (Relative Clauses)

This difference between subject and object pronoun is noticeable when students study adjective clauses. In grammar class, we are told to use ‘whom’ to refer to object relative pronouns (though it doesn’t matter much nowadays). Compare these sentences:

Jack is the man. He kissed Jill.

= Jack is the man who kissed Jill.  (We use ‘who’ to replace ‘He’, which was the subject of the second sentence).

Jill is the woman. Jack kissed her.

= Jill is the woman whom Jack kissed. (We use ‘whom’ to replace ‘her’, the object of the verb)

The reasons are the same: who is a pronoun that replaces a subject, and who is a pronoun that replaces an object.

With that said, fewer people nowadays know this difference and many people don’t care. Unless you are writing a grammar test, then you can use ‘who’ in both sentences and you’ll be fine.

A Few Set Expressions with Whom

We use whom (not who) in the following expressions:

To Whom It May Concern

  • Used at the beginning of a letter when no name is available. Generally we say ‘to whom’ and not ‘to who’ in English because after ‘to’ comes an object.)

Without whom …

  • For example: I’d like to thank my teacher without whom I never would have finished my work.

All/Some of whom…

  • For example: There were many children at the party, some of whom were quite loud.

Exercises on the Difference between Who and Whom

Follow the traditional rules of grammar and select who or whom.

  1.  loves chocolate? Everyone does, especially my sister. She is someone  eats sweets every day.
  2.  did you last thank?  I think it’s important that we show our appreciation to people  help us in life.
  3. Yesterday, there was an accident. A woman  was driving a truck hit a cyclist. The cyclist  she hit was not injured, thankfully.
  4.  loves ? They love us, of course.

  

I hope this short lesson has been helpful. If you have any questions, leave a comment below.

— Written by Matthew Barton (copyright) / Creator of Englishcurrent.com

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6 comments on “English Grammar: The Difference between Who and Whom

  1. Jason Ngu (Posted on 7-29-2017 at 09:20) Reply

    Which one is right for the following sentences:-

    1.1). Who was the man you spoke to just now?
    1.2). Whom was the man you spoke to just now?

    I thought ‘whom’ is the right one because the answer for the question is the object.i.e The man I spoke to just now was Dr James.

    Any opinion?

    1. MB (Posted on 7-29-2017 at 12:31) Reply

      You are right. 2) is correct in a purely grammatical sense. But no one would correct if you said #1.

      1. Jason Ngu (Posted on 7-30-2017 at 05:21) Reply

        Thanks, that mean ‘Whom was the man you spoke to just now?’ is correct.

        For the answer ‘The man I spoke to just now was Dr James’,
        Dr James is the object of the sentence, what is the subject of this sentence?

  2. MB (Posted on 7-30-2017 at 13:28) Reply

    The subject is ‘The man I spoke to just now’. Dr. James is the complement of the sentence.

    1. Jason Ngu (Posted on 7-31-2017 at 03:02) Reply

      May I know ‘Dr James’ in the sentence above is a subject complement or object complement?
      If it is a subject complement, why we have to use ‘whom’ for this question?

      1. MB (Posted on 7-31-2017 at 03:21) Reply

        It is not an object complement — that refers to something else in English grammar. It is a subject complement, which is what a complement always is when you use a linking verb (as far as I know).

        We use ‘whom’ because you are not describing the subject of the sentence — your pronoun describes the predicate/complement. In that sense, instead of calling ‘whom’ an object relative pronoun’, it would be better to call it a ‘non-subject or predicate relative pronoun’ since it can be used in sentences like yours where there is no object.

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