Angela has taught middle and high school English, Business English and Speech for nine years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.
To get to the bottom of the confusing words 'who' and 'whom,' first we have to review basic sentence structure. All sentences are made up of subject and predicate. The subject is the main person or object doing the action. The predicate is the action and everything else that is not attached to the subject. If you can identify the verb, which shows action or state of being, then the predicate will be the verb and all that follows it. Let's look at an example to practice identifying subject and predicate.
Look at this sentence: 'The large dog chased the little girl.' What is the action? You should see the word 'chased' shows the action. 'Chased' is the verb. All the words following 'chased' is what constitutes the predicate. Now ask, 'Who is doing the action?' The dog is doing the chasing. Thus, the dog is the subject. You might be asking, 'What about the words before dog?' 'The' and 'large' are attached to the word 'dog,' and so are considered part of the subject.
So you might be wondering how will subjects and predicates help you decide when to use 'who' and 'whom?' Well, in order to understand the difference, you need to know how to identify the subject and predicate of a sentence. Now that we have reviewed that, let's look at those two words and when to use them.
Who as a Subject Pronoun
The key to knowing when to use 'who' and when to use 'whom' lies in how it is used in the sentence. 'Who' is a subject pronoun. Since you now know what a subject is, what do you think a subject pronoun is? You should know that a pronoun is a word that stands in for a noun, so a subject pronoun is a pronoun being used as the subject of the sentence.
Look at this sentence: 'Her went to the store.' What is wrong? You should have noticed that 'her' is being used improperly. It should be read, 'She went to the store.' This is because 'she' is the subject pronoun, and so needs to be the subject of the sentence. 'Her' is known as an object pronoun. For our purposes, think of an object pronoun as a pronoun being used somewhere in the predicate.
Now that you understand that 'who' is a subject pronoun, you need to remember to only use it when you need a subject for a sentence. 'Who' is usually used in questions, but don't let that confuse you. Questions have subjects and predicates like every other sentence. For example, look at this sentence: 'Who can define the term pronoun?' Can you identify the subject and the action? You should see that the action is 'can define.' Then you can determine that 'who' is the subject, since it is the doer of the action. Since this is a question, you don't know who is really defining the term. Instead, 'who' is the pronoun standing in for a subject of a sentence.
Whom as an Object Pronoun
Now you know that 'who' is a subject pronoun, let's look at 'whom.' 'Whom' is not a subject pronoun; instead, it is an object pronoun. Remember that an object pronoun is being used in the predicate of the sentence and not as the subject. Therefore, the word 'whom' cannot be the subject of your sentence.' That would be like using 'her' when you should use 'she.'
Look at this example: 'Katie can drive with whom to the store?' What is the action of this sentence? You should see 'can drive' is the action. Who is doing the action? 'Katie' is driving, and thus is the subject of the sentence. So 'whom' is the correct usage in this sentence, since it falls in the predicate and not the subject. For 'whom,' remember to identify the subject. If there is a clear subject, then use 'whom' as your pronoun as it falls in the predicate of the sentence.
Who vs. Whom
If you feel you may have trouble identifying subject and predicates in questions, there is another technique to determine when to use 'who' and 'whom.' Simply substitute either 'he' or 'him' in place where you want to use 'who' or 'whom.' If you can tell 'he' is the correct word, then it's a subject pronoun and should use 'who.' If you would use 'him,' then it is an object pronoun and you need to use 'whom.' If it helps, 'him' and 'whom' both end with the letter 'm.'
Let's use this technique with a few examples. Look at this sentence: 'Him went to the store.' Hopefully it is obvious that you should use 'he' instead of 'him.' So if you were making this into a question, you would use the subject pronoun 'who' to replace the word 'he.' It would become 'Who went to the store?' and not 'Whom went to the store?'
Let's look at the other side of this. Look at this question: 'The teacher gave (who or whom) an F on the paper?' Turn the question into a statement and see if you would use 'he' or 'him.' 'The teacher gave (he or him) an F on the paper.' You should see that 'him' is the correct word for that sentence. Thus, the question should use 'whom' and not 'who.' 'The teacher gave whom an F on the paper?' or even 'Whom did the teacher give an F to on the paper?'
Here's a final example. 'Who/Whom did you throw the ball to?' Rephrase this as a statement and determine if you should use 'he' or 'him.' 'You did throw the ball to he/him.' Which is correct? You should see that the sentence should be, 'You did throw the ball to him.' Since you use 'him' in the statement, you should use 'whom' in the question. 'Whom did you throw the ball to?'
Who's vs. Whose
Once you understand 'who' versus 'whom,' 'who's' and 'whose' is going to be a piece of cake. 'Who's' stands for 'who is' or 'who has.' It is simply a contraction, which combines two words. 'Whose' is the possessive form of 'who.' Remember possessive form means showing ownership.
Look at this example: 'Who's/whose going to the ballgame today?' To decide which to use, just try the sentence with 'who is' or 'who has.' Should it be 'Who is going to the ballgame today?' Yes, that makes sense. So you can write it as 'Who's going to the ballgame today?'
Now look at this one: 'Who's/whose baseball glove is this?' Try using 'who is' or 'who has.' Does this make sense? 'Who is baseball glove is this?' No, it does not. This is because you need to show ownership of the glove. 'Whose' needs to be used in this case. 'Whose baseball glove is this?'
So when you are deciding between these, remember 'who's' is the contraction for 'who is' or 'who has,' while 'whose' is the possessive form of 'who.' To determine which to use, put in 'who is' or 'who has' and see if it works in the sentence. If neither of those works, then use the possessive word 'whose.'
To review, you need to understand subject and predicate to differentiate between 'who' and 'whom.' 'Who' is a subject pronoun and must serve as the subject of the sentence or the doer of the action. 'Whom' is an object pronoun and occurs in the predicate of a sentence. Decide where your pronoun occurs and you can determine to use 'who' or 'whom.'
Another way to decide between these two is to replace the pronoun with 'he' or 'him.' If you can use 'he' in that place, then you need the subject pronoun 'who.' If you can use 'him' in that place, then you need to use the object pronoun 'whom.'
Finally, to differentiate between 'who's' and 'whose,' you need to test the contraction. Replace the pronoun with 'who is' or 'who has.' If the sentence makes sense, then use 'who's.' If it does not make sense and you need to show ownership, use the possessive 'whose.'
Keep these tips in mind and you will never misuse 'who,' 'whom,' 'who's' and 'whose.'
Subsequent to watching this lesson, you could:
- Demonstrate an understanding of the roles of the subject, predicate and verb in a sentence
- Distinguish between 'who,' 'whom,' 'whose,' and 'who's'
- Properly use each word in a sentence
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