Who? (Or is it “whom”?)

Do you remember the OJ Simpson trial (the first one)? Johnnie Cochran, who led OJ Simpson’s defense team, was a great speaker. One of his more powerful statements, actually a rhetorical question to the jury, was, “Who is kidding whom?” This is a great quote because it underscores the correct uses of “who” and “whom.”

Here’s another one: “Is this the party to whom I am speaking?”

Many writers arobjects2e confused about the use of “whom.” However, it is not complicated if you understand how it is used.

Understanding Objects

To understand the correct use of “whom,” you need to know a little bit about objects in sentences. An object is 1) the person, place, thing, or idea affected by the action in a sentence, or 2) the reference for a preposition. Let’s look at an example of each.

  1. “The dog found bones under the rock.” The action here is “found.” “Bones” are affected by the action of finding, so “bones” is the object of the action “found.”
  2. “The dog found bones under the rock.” The preposition here is “under.” We can ask, “Under what?” The answer is “rock,” so “rock” is the object of the preposition “under.”

Although the samples above use nouns as objects, we can also use pronouns. The object pronouns are “me,” “you,” “him,” “her,” “it,” “us,” “them,” and “whom.” For example, we could write “The dog found them under the rock.”

If someone came to me and said, “Hey, my dog found bones under some people,” I could respond, “Oh, yeah? Under whom?” Here, “whom” is the object of the preposition “under.”

On the other hand, the pronoun “who” is used as a subject. For example, you can write “Who put the bones under the rock?” Here, “who” is the subject of the action “put.” The subject pronouns are “I,” “you,” “he,” “she,” “it,” “we,” “they,” and “who.”

Choosing “Who” or “Whom”

“Who”—When you need the subject of a verb, use “who.”
“Whom”—When you need an object, use “whom.”

If you are still not sure which one you need, try this trick. Replace the “who/whom” pronoun with subject pronoun “he.” How does that sentence sound to you? Then replace it with the object pronoun “him.” How does it sound now? If “he” sounds correct, you need the subject pronoun “who.” If “him” sounds correct, you need the object pronoun “whom.”

We have a more detailed discussion of this in the Precise Edit Training Manual, but I hope that the brief explanation helps you solve most questions about “who” and “whom.”

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