Who and whom are commonly confused words. In fact, many native English speakers don’t know the difference between them. You will often see the words used interchangeably in error, but there are simple ways to choose which one you should use.
If you want your writing (and speech) to sound more professional, getting words like who and whom correct is important. Let’s look at the words in more depth to understand how they work in a sentence.
Officially, you can’t interchange these two words. However, you will find that some native English speakers avoid using whom altogether or use it incorrectly.
Who and whom have the same meaning and both are often used in questions, but in different ways. Choosing which one you need depends on whether you are referring to the subject or the object of the sentence.
- Subject: The person is completing the action in the sentence. You need to use the pronoun who.
- Object: The person is receiving the action of the verb. Use the pronoun whom.
Let’s look at two examples to spot the difference:
Sentence A: Who is going to the party?
Sentence B: Whom should I invite to the party?
In sentence A, you could answer who with a person’s name. They are the subject of the sentence. But in sentence B, whom is the object of the verb invite.
Did you notice both the previous examples were questions? Who and whom are interrogative pronouns often (but not always) used to ask questions. Whom refers to the object of a noun or preposition and who refers to the subject of the question.
Like the pronouns I, he, and she, who is the subject of the sentence. This is the person performing the action. Whom is an object pronoun like me, him, and her. We often use it when the person is unknown.
Let’s check out another example:
In this sentence, Tony is doing something; he’s eating. That means he’s the subject of the sentence. You could replace Tony’s name with who to form a question:
What if we want to use whom instead? We can flip the sentence and make the sandwich the subject and Tony the object:
- The sandwich was eaten by Tony.
Now the subject of the sentence (the sandwich) is not performing the action. The sandwich isn’t the one doing the eating! We could replace the sandwich with whom to ask the question:
- By whom was the sandwich eaten?
Using Who and Whom to Detect Passive Voice
Notice how The sandwich was eaten by Tony is longer and less direct?
This sentence is written in the passive voice—the main actor in the sentence is not the subject.
It’s quicker and more engaging to write Tony ate the sandwich. This places the main actor at the forefront of your reader’s mind.
If you can replace the subject of your sentence with whom, you’re probably writing in the passive voice. Try changing your sentence so that you could replace the subject with who to turn it into the active voice.
Or, for a quicker way to spot passive voice, use ProWritingAid.
Our editing tool will highlight all instances of passive voice in your document and offer active re-wordings, helping you make your writing more engaging in just a few clicks.
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Not sure if you should use who? Don’t worry; there’s a simple trick to help. All you have to do is answer the question you’re posing and see whether you’re using he or she in your reply. If you are, then who is correct.
Which of these sentences is correct?
Sentence A: Who ate my snack?
Sentence B: Whom ate my snack?
Try answering it by adding she or he in the answer to check:
Because you can use she, sentence A is correct: Who ate my snack?
So what about when to use whom? Just like in the example above, try answering your own question. If you have to use him or her or them in your reply, you’ll need to use whom.
Which of these sentences is correct?
Sentence A: To who is the package being sent?
Sentence B: To whom is the package being sent?
Reply to this question by using him, her, or them:
- The package is being sent to him.
That makes the correct answer sentence B: To whom is the package being sent?
You might have seen to whom it may concern written in a letter. This can give the false impression that whom is used to sound formal. In fact, whom is always used instead of who after the prepositions to, for, with, and of.
- To whom should I send the invitation?
- For whom is this parcel?
- The children, one of whom dislikes loud noises, will be with us all weekend.
- My friend, with whom I’ve travelled the world, has come to visit.
Now we’ve fully explored the differences between who and whom, let’s recap the simple ways you can tell which one you need.
Use who if:
- You’re referring to the subject of the sentence
- It can be answered with she or he
Use whom if:
- You’re speaking about the object of the sentence
- The question can be answered with him, her, or them
- It follows the preposition to, for, of or with
You’ll spot lots of people online asking questions about whether to use who or whom. Here are a few of the most commonly asked queries for us to look at.
- Correct: Who are you?
- Incorrect: Whom are you?
Tip: Who is used for the subject of a sentence.
- Correct: To whom …. ?
- Incorrect: To who …. ?
Tip: Use whom after the preposition to.
- Correct: Who is who?
- Incorrect: Whom is who?
Tip: If you can replace the word with a name or she or he then use who, e.g. Who is who? = Who is Kelly?
- Correct: Whom should I contact?
- Incorrect: Who should I contact?
Tip: Use whom for the object of a verb.
- Correct: Who else wants cake?
- Incorrect: Whom else wants cake?
Tip: If you can answer the question with he or she, use who.
- Correct: Whom are you supporting?
- Incorrect: Who are you supporting
Tip: Use whom if you can answer with him or her.
Who and whom are often used in questions, but not always.
- A child who is hungry can’t learn properly.
- The employee with whom I spoke said I could have a refund.
You can still work out whether you need who or whom by looking at the subject and object of the sentence.
Many native English speakers don’t use whom at all, thinking it sounds old-fashioned or pretentious. Instead, they will use who for both the subject and object of a sentence. This is incorrect, but many native English readers wouldn’t even notice the error.
If you’re speaking with someone conversationally in English, you may spot them using who rather than whom.
While this is fine when you’re speaking, it’s always best to use the correct form in writing, especially in a professional setting.
Rather than avoiding whom, some English speakers use it instead of who to sound sophisticated or formal. This is something to avoid, especially in legal and academic writing where this mistake will be obvious. Often, using whom in erro