Who/whom usage is one of the most common grammar errors in the English language. Some people, and even some grammarians, believe that whom should be cast out of the language forever. Perhaps they’re right, but for now, for those of you who are interested in learning a little more about their usage, here’s something that I hope will help.
Who is used as the subject of a verb; whom is an object. I know that doesn’t sound like much help, but stay with it; there’s more. Pronouns that can be used as subjects are called nominative pronouns, and they are pronouns such as I, he, she, we, they, and who. Pronouns that can be used as objects are called objective pronouns, and they are pronouns such as me, him, her, us, them, and whom. So, when faced with a who/whom problem, try substituting he and him, and that will tell you whether who or whom is correct.
The best way to learn the difference is to look at some sentences. When the sentence is interrogative, it’s easier to find the answer by re-writing it in declarative form.
- The best candidate is the one who/whom is honest. In substituting for the who/whom, you would say He is honest, not him is honest, so it’s The best candidate is the one who is honest. You can also see here that in the who/whom clause, the verb is is, and it needs a subject, so who would be correct.
- Who/whom are you voting for? For this one, you have to not only use substitution, but you also have to re-write the sentence to make it declarative, which yields You are voting for him/he. Obviously, the correct pronoun is him, so the sentence should be Whom are you voting for? (Or For whom are you voting?) You can also see that him/he is the object of the preposition for, so you need the objective pronoun, which is whom (unlike in the first example above, in which you needed a subject for the verb is.)
- Who/whom shall I say is calling? First, re-write to I shall say who/whom is calling. Then substitute: I shall say he/him is calling. The obvious answer is he, so the sentence should read Who shall I say is calling? (For this sentence, many people do believe that it should be Whom shall I say is calling, but it isn’t. As you can see, in the who/whom clause, is is the verb, and it needs a subject, so we indeed need the nominative pronoun who.)
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