In Defense of Whom?

As the newly appointed Writing Center Tutor, I would just like to say hello and give a quick post on the eternal who vs. whom battle we as English writers and speakers face everyday.

In recent years, it seems many people have abandoned or forgotten the use of whom and have instead adopted who for almost every situation. Hopefully, with a proper explanation, we can clear up any difficulties we might  have when there is doubt as to which word to use.

Before we discuss who and whom, it is important to lay down some groundwork in regards to subjects and objects; if we have a strong grasp of these two parts of speech, learning when to use who and whom will be a snap! The subject in a sentence is what the sentence is about. It is the person, place, or thing doing the action in the sentence. Conversely, the object of a sentence (and not every sentence has an object) receives the action in some way. Now this sounds a little confusing, so when in doubt, use an example.

Example:  The boy hit the ball.

In this sentence, the boy is the subject (noun doing the action), hit is the verb (action), and the ball is the object (receives the action).

Now that we have a grasp of subjects and objects, let’s talk about the matter at hand: who and whom. Who and whoever are pronouns used for subjects.

Example: I talked to the writer who wrote my favorite book.

In this example, who is acting as the subject (person doing the action) in the second half of the sentence.

On the other hand, whom and whomever are pronouns used for objects.

Example: I am going to a new school with new classmates, whom I hope to become friends with.

In this sentence, whom is acting as the object (the person receiving the action) in the second half of the sentence.

Now, don’t you hate it when you spend weeks in a mathematics class learning a long, painstaking method for finding a solution, and then your instructor shows you a shortcut? Well, that is what I am about to do. Just like math, it is important to understand why we do certain things before we are given a trick for getting the right answer. Some writers find it helpful to replace who with he and whom with him; by replacing the word with the right pronoun, one can see whether to use a subject pronoun (who) or an object pronoun (whom).

In the who example above, if we replaced who with he and read the second half of the sentence, it would say: he wrote my favorite book. Therefore, we know who is right because it makes sense to use a subject pronoun to tell readers who wrote my favorite book.

In the whom example above, if we replace whom with him and rearrange the second half of the sentence for clarity, it would read: I hope to become friends with him. Thus, we know whom is right because it makes sense to use an object pronoun to tell readers whom I hope to become friends with.

The who/whom distinction can be a tricky thing; but with the correct understanding of how the words are working in a given sentence (i.e., as subjects and objects), I believe we can have great confidence. Don’t forget to visit the Writing Center for any and all things English or just to say hello! Below I have listed my contact information and the hours of operation:

Pete Talbert – Writing Center Tutor —

Writing Center Hours — Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Monday through Friday — Room 2-103

Appointment Phone: (651)423-8420

Happy Writing!

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