Many of us have trouble with understanding when to use ‘who’ and when to use ‘whom’. Even the most versed grammar wiz sometimes forgets the rule for these two pronouns. Additionally, if you do memorize the rule, it can sometimes be difficult to apply it. Although it may seem tricky at first, knowing which pronoun to use can become a natural skill with the right amount of time and practice.
The first thing to do in order to get closer to understanding is to memorize these rules:
- Use ‘who’ and ‘whoever’ as the subject of a verb (the noun or pronoun that is doing the action of the verb).
- ‘Whom’ and ‘whomever’ are most often used as the object of a prepositional phrase, but they are also used as objects for anything. This means that they may be direct and indirect objects, the object of a preposition, the object of an infinitive, etc.
Applying the Rules
Let’s start with ‘who’ and ‘whoever’ as the subject. The subject usually comes before the verb in a sentence, and the noun or pronoun is what performs the action of the sentence. It is who or what the sentence is about. If you need to use the pronoun ‘who’ or ‘whom’ in a sentence, and it is the subject of the sentence, always choose ‘who.’
Here are some example sentences of using ‘who’ or ‘whoever’ as the subject of a sentence:
- Whoever needs help with their homework is going to have to ask the teacher about tutoring (‘whoever’ is the subject for ‘needs’).
- Who gave you that awesome present (‘who’ is the subject for ‘gave’)?
- Who are you (‘who’ is the subject for ‘are’)?
- Who needs to eat, right now (‘who’ is the subject for ‘needs’)?
- Whoever broke that vase is in a lot of trouble (‘whoever’ is the subject for ‘broke’)!
‘Whom’ and ‘whomever’ are most often used as the object of a preposition. For example ‘for whom’ or ‘to whomever.’ The following are some prepositions to look out for: of, to, for, above, below, beside, on, in, above, after, at, by, from, over, under, with. Over 100 prepositions exist, so you may want to study up on your prepositions, to make sure that you are always using ‘whom’ with a preposition.
Here are some examples of using ‘whom’ and ‘whomever’ as the object of a preposition:
- To whom are you giving that awesome present (‘whom’ is the object of the preposition ‘to’)?
- That money is for whom (‘whom’ is the object of the preposition ‘for’)?
- The cat is beside whom (‘whom’ is the object of the preposition ‘beside’)?
- Give the trophy to whomever completes four laps in the fastest amount of time (‘whomever’ is the object of the preposition ‘to’).
- The pillow is under whom (‘whom’ is the object of the preposition ‘under’)?
‘Whom’ is always used any time it is the object of something. Besides prepositions, direct and indirect objects are the most common type of object you may run into when choosing whether to use ‘who’ or ‘whom.’ A direct object receives the action of the verb in the sentence. It, basically, answers the questions ‘who’ or ‘what’ after an action verb.
Here are some examples of ‘whom’ and ‘whomever’ used as direct objects:
- Ask whomever you want to the prom (‘whomever’ is the direct object of ‘ask’).
- I don’t care whom you tell (‘whom’ is the direct object of ‘tell’).
- I will love whomever I love, and you can’t change it (‘whomever’ is the direct object of ‘will love’)!
- Ask whomever you want, and they will tell you that I’m right (‘whomever’ is the direct object of ‘ask’).
Indirect objects are a bit trickier. You must always have a direct object to have an indirect object, and the indirect object will appear before the direct object in the sentence. The indirect object specifies ‘to whom’ or ‘for whom’ the action of the verb applies to and who is being affected by the direct object. Indirect objects can be difficult to understand, and you may have to do some serious studying to figure out if you need to use ‘whom’ or ‘whomever’ for an indirect object.
Here are some example sentences of using ‘whom’ or ‘whomever’ as an indirect object:
- He gave whom the book (‘whom’ is the indirect object of ‘gave’)?
- Give whomever has an ‘A’ the candy (‘whomever’ is the indirect object of ‘give).
Sometimes, it is easier to rewrite the sentence when you have ‘whom’ or ‘whomever’ as an indirect object. It can sometimes be rewritten using a prepositional phrase:
- He gave the book to whom?
- Give the candy to whomever has an ‘A.’
Some Tricks to Help You Out
There are a couple of tricks that may help you figure out whether to use ‘who’ or ‘whom’ in your sentence. The first thing that you can do is find all of the verbs in your sentence. Keep the helping verbs with the main verbs. Now, identify the subject that goes with each of the verbs that you found. If the ‘who’ or ‘whom’ in question turns out to be the subject of one of these verbs, then you know that you should use ‘who.’ If the ‘who’ or ‘whom’ turns out not to be the subject of any of your verbs, then you probably need to use ‘who.’
If you find that the ‘who’ or ‘whom’ in question is not the subject of any of your verbs, try locating all of the prepositions in the sentence. If the ‘who’ or ‘whom’ in question come after one of these prepositions, then it probably is the object of the prepositional phrase, and you probably need to use ‘whom.’
Another trick involves rearranging the order of the words in the sentence to follow the model: Subject-Verb-Object. Locate the verb that seems to be connected to the ‘who’ or ‘whom’ that is in question. It’s easiest to start with the verb, because you need the verb to locate both the subject of that verb, as well as the object of that verb. Find the subject and object of that verb. Write down the words according to the model: Subject-Verb-Object. If the ‘who’ or ‘whom’ in question goes in the ‘Subject’ part of the model, use ‘who.’ If the ‘who’ or ‘whom’ in question goes in the ‘Object’ part of the model, use ‘whom.’ If the ‘who’ or ‘whom’ in question does not go with any part of this model, look to see if it follows a preposition. If it does, use ‘whom.’
The Exception that Might Stump You
There is one important exception to the above rules. When you are dealing with a linking verb, you may need to use ‘who’ or ‘whoever’ even if it appears after the verb. ‘Who’ and ‘whoever’ are sometimes used as complements to linking verbs, and they can be used to complete the meaning of the linking verb. It should be noted that linking verbs do not indicate an action; rather, they attach the subject of the sentence to further details about the subject. Look at the verb carefully. Is the verb truly performing an action? If not, it may be a linking verb. This can be difficult to recognize, so you may want to spend extra time studying linking verbs in order to understand whether you are supposed to use ‘who’ or ‘whom’ in your sentence.
1. Mom, you told me to give this apple to ____________?
2. ____________ is going to the store with me?
3. Give the book to ____________ wants it.
4. ____________ should I say is on the phone?
5. I will give this present to my sister, ____________ I love even when she is teasing me.
6. ____________ will Lacey choose to be the cheerleading captain?
7. ____________ do you think is better suited for the football coach position?
1. whom (object of a preposition)
2. who (subject)
3. whomever (object of a preposition)
4. who (subject)
5. whom (direct object)
6. whom (direct object)
7. whom (direct object)