Now that we’ve talked about relative pronouns, let’s tackle the one that causes the most confusion: who vs. whom. Who is a subject pronoun, like I, he, she, we, and they. Whom is an object pronoun, like me, him, her, us and them. When the pronoun is the object of a verb or preposition, the object form is the one you want. Most people don’t have much trouble with the objective case of personal pronouns because they usually come immediately after the verb or preposition that modifies it.
- Incorrect: Please mail it to I.
- Correct: Please mail it to me.
- Incorrect: Ms. Higgins caught they passing notes.
- Correct: Ms. Higgins caught them passing notes.
- Incorrect: Is this cake for we?
- Correct: Is this cake for us?
Whom is trickier, though, because it usually comes before the verb or
preposition that modifies it.
- Correct: Whom did you speak to earlier?
- Correct: A man, whom I have never seen before, was asking about you.
- Incorrect: Whom should I say is calling?
One way to test whether you need who or whom is to try substituting a
personal pronoun. Find the place where the personal pronoun would normally go and see whether the subject or object form makes more sense.
Who/whom did you speak to earlier? Did you speak to he/him earlier?
A man, whom I have never seen before, was asking about you. Have I
seen he/him before?
Whom should I say is calling? Should I say she/her is calling?
If the object pronoun (him or her) sounds right, use whom. If the subject
pronoun (he or she) sounds right, use who.
Before we move on, there’s one more case where the choice between subject and object pronouns can be confusing. Can you spot the problem in the sentences below?
- Incorrect: Henry is meeting Sarah and I this afternoon. There are no secrets between you and I. It doesn’t matter to him or I.
In each of the sentences above, the pronoun I should be me. If you remove the other name or pronoun from the sentence, it becomes obvious.
- Incorrect: Henry is meeting I this afternoon. No one keeps secrets from I. It doesn’t matter to I.
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