This week we discuss the pronouns “who” and “whom.” We use the pronoun “who” when referring to the subject of a sentence (i.e., the person doing something), and the pronoun “whom” when referring to the object of a sentence (i.e., the person having something done to him). Sound complicated? It isn’t—and later I’ll give you a nifty trick that will help you use the words correctly, easily, and with confidence.
But first, let’s consider this television scene in which Agent Maxwell Smart doesn’t seem to understand the difference between “who” and “whom”:
Agent Smart: OK 99, I think we can start with the interrogation now.
Agent 99: Check 86!
Agent Smart: OK [suspected KAOS agent] Ratchett, start talking!
Agent 99: Who pays you?
Agent Smart: Who do you report to?
Agent 99: (Whispering.) Whom.
Agent Smart: Whom?
Ratchett: Look, I’ll tell you everything!
Agent Smart: Just a minute Ratchett. (To 99.) Are you sure it’s whom, 99?
Agent 99: Yeah, I think so because, um, whom is the objective, you see, in view of a preposition.
Ratchett: (Impatient.) I would like to make a statement.
Agent Smart: Who do you report to? (Facing the other direction.) Whom do you report to?
Ratchett: (Exasperated.) It’s “whom.”
So, should Agent Smart have used “who” or “whom”? Remember, we use “whom” when referring to the object of a sentence—but we use “who” when referring to the subject of a sentence. Confused? Here is the nifty trick: if you are uncertain which pronoun is correct, ask yourself if the answer to your question is “he” or “him.” (Or, alternatively, “she” or “her.”) If “he” is the answer, then “who” is correct. If “him” is the answer, then “whom” is correct. Here are some examples:
- Who/whom pays you? Answer: Since “He pays me” is the right answer, “who” is correct.
- Who/whom do you love? Answer: Since “I love him” is the correct answer, “whom” is correct (with all apologies to Bo Diddley, who sang “Who Do You Love” in the 1950s).
- Who/whom is the best writer? Answer: Since “He is the best writer” is the correct answer, “who” is correct.
- Who/whom do you report to? Answer: Since “I report to him” is the correct answer, “whom” is correct.
See, it’s easy. Now, whom do you love?