Rules guiding the use of 'who' and 'whom' in sentences

Rules guiding the use of 'who' and 'whom' in sentences

Whether to use “whom” or “who” in spoken or written English is a major problem among native speakers and learners of English. This problem has led to an intentional abandonment of the former and an over reliance on the latter, which English users assume is much more appropriate in any context. This might be based on how pleasant the utterance or sentence is to the ears of the speaker(s).That is why an English user can wrongly substitute "whom" for "who" without anyone noticing, not even an English teacher. Allowing this beast to keep on spreading its tentacles is like accepting that which totally unacceptable. Therefore, with ample examples, this article unravels the rules guiding the use of “whom” and “who” in sentences.
Rules guiding the use of "who" and "whom" in a sentence
“Whom” and “who” are both relative and interrogative pronouns. As relative pronouns, they give additional information about the noun(s) preceding them.
  • The man who helped me is my uncle.
  • Her friend, in whom she confided, finally let the cat out of the bag.
The sentences above could as well be written as “The man is my uncle.” and “Her friend finally let the cat out of the bag.” respectively without their actual meanings being distorted. “Who” and “Whom” in these sentences only give additional information to the nouns preceding them; thus their absence will not, in any way, distort the actual meanings of the sentences.

As interrogative pronouns, “whom” and “who” are used to ask questions.
  • Who is that?
  • Whom did you invite to the party?
The long-lasting dilemma on whether to use "whom" or "who" in a given sentence can be resolved if these rules are applied:

Rule 1: Use “whom” if the answer to the question is himher or them, or if “whom” can be replaced with himher or them.

Example: Who/Whom did you invite to the party?

To make it easier, let's turn the question into a statement. You invited who/whom to the party. If you were asked to replace who/whom with either “he” or “him”, which do you think would be more appropriate. Without any iota of doubt, you would say, “You invited him to the party.” “Whom” is much more appropriate since it can be replaced with "him" in the sentence.  Therefore, “Whom did you invite to the party?” becomes the right thing to say.

Example 2: I wanted to know who/whom they gave the book.

To get the right option, just ask yourself this simple question, “Who/Whom did they give book?” Would you say "they gave the book to him or he”?  You would definitely say “They gave the book to him.” Therefore, “I wanted to know whom they gave the book.” becomes the correct statement.

Example 3: Who/Whom did they punch?
You answer would definitely be, “They punched him.” So, “whom” is much more appropriate here.

Rule 2: Use “whom” after a preposition.
  • This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.
  • To whom it may concern.
  • To whom am I speaking?
  • From whom did you get the books?
The bold words in the examples above are all prepositions hence the use of “whom” in the sentences.

Although "whom" and "who" belong the same class of pronoun and perform similar functions, where one is used, the other can't be used. It is, therefore, paramount to state, with corresponding examples, when to use "who" in a sentence.

Rule 1: Use “who” if you can replace it with he/she or they.

Example: Who/Whom cooked this tasty meal?

To answer this question, we would say, “He cooked this tasty meal.”, not “*Him cooked this tasty meal.” Therefore, “who” is correct.

Example 2: I just want to know who/whom won the contest.

Unlike the first example, this is a statement, but in order to get the correct option, let’s turn it into a question using a part of the sentence. “Who/whom won the contest?” If we try to turn this question into a statement, we would say, “He won the contest.” So, "who" is very correct. And the above example would be, “I just want to know who won the contest.”

Rule 2: Use “who” immediately after a noun or pronoun when giving an additional information about that noun or pronoun.
  • His father, who is a staunch opponent of drugs, is a drug addict.
  • The man who helped me is my uncle.
  • It was a nice man who assisted us.
It is quite unfortunate that the use of “whom” in modern English is fading out probably because English users have little or no knowledge of how and when to use this word in a sentence. In fact, you could spend your entire life without ever using “whom” and 99.9% of English users would never even notice. This has placed “whom” almost in the same category with words such as “thy” and “thou”. 

However, the correct use of "whom" in one's sentences makes it distinct, posh and classy. It raises the user's shoulders and portrays him/her as one who has the command of the language. Above all, it shows that he is well guided and grounded in the language. 

From what you've learnt in this article, give the correct expression to each of the following question(s) or statements below:

1. I am confused. Who/Whom should I ask to leave?
2. Tammy is yet to decide who/whom should be the class representative.
3. All I need right now is just a friend on who/whom I can depend.