Who or Whom? (Updated)
No, this is not an owl impression. These are two words so similar, they’ve sparked debate among the most esteemed of writers and educators. They are also very often misused by the general population.
Even though “whom” sounds very formal, there are specific rules for its use. Whom is a pronoun that refers to someone not directly in the conversation or statement.
It is also a pronoun used as the “object” of a sentence, that is, it is usually used with a directing preposition. “To whom does this belong?” “To whom it may concern:” “With whom did you speak the last time you were here?” Notice that when using “whom”, the person is usually unknown as well as not present.
“Who” can be used as the subject of a sentence or question: “Who are you?” “Do you know who is coming tonight?”
“Who” can also be used as a function word to introduce a subject, “my father, who is a lawyer, never reacted badly to stress”. There is another version of who, that like whom, can be used when asking a question. “Whoever broke the vase is in big trouble.”
“Who” should always be used in place of “that” when referring to people. “There are many people who enjoy family celebrations.” “There are many of us who are waiting for the movie to start.”
“That” is used for inanimate objects and non-persons. “These are the dogs that are available for adoption.”
Whom Fun Fact: Did you know writers the world over for a long time (1870 to present day), thought that usage of the word whom would disappear as it’s mostly familiar in Shakespearean and, even older, a biblical turn of phrase. However, this debate is still ongoing.
“It Matters How You Say It!”
If you need writing or editing assistance with the very confusing English language rules, contact the professionals at Writing It Right For You. We’re here to help because “It Matters How You Say It”!