Who vs. Whom – How To Distinguish These Two

29.07.23 Commonly confused words Time to read: 5min

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When creating an academic paper, it’s typical to encounter commonly confused words. These occurrences can impact the quality of your paper, since academic writing requires clearness and precision to efficiently communicate arguments. The words “who” and “whom” are frequently confused because they are distinguished by only one letter. As a result, several writers use them interchangeably, although they cannot replace each other. Discover the distinction between “who” and “whom” now.

Definition of “who vs. whom”

The meanings of the words “who” and “whom” and their way of spelling are closely related. As they only differ by one letter, they are frequently confused words in academic writing. Both words are pronouns and are used to refer to people.

Who

… is a relative pronoun used as the subject of a sentence.

Whom

… is a relative pronoun used as the object of a verb or a preposition.

It is important to focus on the surrounding context to distinguish between the two words. The main difference between “who” and “whom” lies in their grammatical roles within a sentence. When used as the subject of a sentence or subject complement, “who” is the correct choice. On the other hand, “whom” should be used when it functions as the object of a verb or a preposition. It is essential to note that in casual spoken English, “whom” has become less common, and “who” is often used in informal situations.

Using the word “who”

The word “who” is a relative pronoun and functions as a subject or subject complement of a sentence. This will be outlined in the following.

“Who” as a subject

“Who” is used as the subject of a sentence. The subject, “who”, is either performing the action of the verb or is described in the sentence. It refers to the person that the sentence is about.

Examples

  • Who is coming to the party?
  • Who wants to go on a trip?
  • Who ate all the cookies?

“Who” as a subject complement

“Who” may be used as a sentence’s subject complement, also called predicate nominative. When a sentence contains a linking verb such as “is,” “was,” “am,” or “are,” the word following the verb serves to rename or identify the subject of the sentence. This restatement essentially provides another indication of referring to the subject.

Examples

  • The winner is who?
  • The new team captain is who?
  • The person responsible for the project is who?

Tip for using “who” correctly

There are a few synonyms for the pronoun “who”. However, the sentence structure must be changed accordingly. Examples are “that one”, “which”, and “whosoever”. All the sentences are grammatically correct but may sound awkward, which is why it is best to choose “who”.

Synonyms Examples
That one I haven’t met who helped me yesterday.
I haven’t met that one who helped me yesterday.
Which Luca is her partner, who made her very happy.
Luca is her partner, which made her very happy.
Whosoever Those who want to participate should sign up.
Whosoever wants to participate should sign up.

Using the word “whom”

The word “whom” functions as the object of a verb or a preposition. This grammatical function will be outlined in the following.

“Whom” as an object

“Whom” is used as the object of the verb or preposition, referring to the person receiving the action. In formal writing, use “whom”. In less formal situations, “who” is commonly accepted.

Examples: “whom“ as the object of a verb

  • Whom did you invite to the party?
  • I saw the person whom you were talking to.
  • Whom did they choose as the team captain?

Examples: “whom” as the object of a preposition

  • To whom should I address the letter?
  • The gift is for the person whom I admire the most.
  • With whom did you go to the concert?

Tip for using “whom” correctly

There are also a few synonyms for the word “whom”. These include “whomever”, “whosoever”, and “whoever”. All the sentences are grammatically correct but may sound awkward, which is why it is best to choose “whom”.

Synonyms Examples
Whomever You may give the book to whom you choose.
You may give the book to whomever you choose.
Whosoever Whom finds the lost keys should return them to the front desk.
Whosoever finds the lost keys should return them to the front desk.
Whoever Give the job to whom you think is best qualified.
Give the job to whoever you think is best qualified.

Test yourself!

Practice sheet

To evaluate your skill in distinguishing between “who” and “whom”, kindly fill in the blank spaces in the ten sentences. You can then check the second tab for the correct answers to verify your understanding.

  1. ______ did you invite to the party?
  2. To ______ should I address this letter?
  3. ______ do you think is responsible for the mess?
  4. The prize shall be awarded to ______ finds the hidden treasure.
  5. ______ should I trust with this secret?
  6. The police officer asked ______ the witness had seen.
  7. The team captain, ______ is a talented player, led the team to victory.
  8. To ______ did they assign the challenging task?
  9. I haven’t decided ______ I will vote for in the election.
  10. They finally caught the thief, ______ had been stealing from the store.
  1. Whom did you invite to the party?
  2. To whom should I address this letter?
  3. Who do you think is responsible for the mess?
  4. The prize shall be awarded to whoever finds the hidden treasure.
  5. Whom should I trust with this secret?
  6. The police officer asked whom the witness had seen.
  7. The team captain, who is a talented player, led the team to victory.
  8. To whom did they assign the challenging task?
  9. I haven’t decided whom I will vote for in the election.
  10. They finally caught the thief, who had been stealing from the store.

FAQs

“Who” is used when referring to the subject of a verb or as a subject complement (predicate nominative) after a linking verb. “Whom” is used when referring to the object of a verb or a preposition.

When deciding whether to use “who” or “whom,” consider whether the word is the subject (performing the action) or the object (receiving the action). Use “who” for the subject and “whom” for the object.

“Who” is used as the subject of a sentence or as the subject complement:

  • Who is coming to the party? (Subject of the sentence)

“Whom” is used as the object of a verb or a preposition:

  • Whom did you invite to the party? (Object of the verb)
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