Who vs. Whom? Here’s How To Decide

Do you have difficulty when it comes to choosing who or whom?

Some think whom sounds stuffy and pretentious.

When did proper grammar become stuffy? I think that’s an excuse made by people who don’t know the difference.

Does anyone criticize Ernest Hemingway for using whom in the title of his famous novel For Whom The Bell Tolls?

Here are four guidelines to help you recognize whether to use who or whom:

  1. Who is the doer of the action.

Who was driving the car?
He was critical of people who didn’t support his decision.
The winner, no matter who she is, will wear the crown for a year.

  1. Whom is the object, the person acted on, and it often is preceded by a preposition (at, in, for, from, of, to, with).

Did you speak to her?
To whom did you speak?

Who gave you the check?
From whom did you get the check?

Did you take a walk with her?
With whom did you take a walk?

  1. Consider these substitutions as shortcuts to helping you make the right choice:
    he, she, they (subjects) = who
    him, her, them (objects) = whom

Who / whom was driving the car?
He was driving the car.

You invited whowhom to dinner?
You invited her to dinner.

For whowhom were members of the audience applauding?
Members of the audience were applauding for them.

4. If you use “for whom the bell tolls” as a mnemonic device, you’ll find it not only is the title of an Ernest Hemingway novel; it’s also a line in this poem (John Donne) and the theme of this song (Metallica). All serve as memorable examples to remind us that whom is the object the bell is tolling for, not the subject that would let us know who is tolling the bells.

I’ll close with this link to former blog about who: whether to use who or which.

What grammar puzzles have you tried to solve in the past few days? Let me know. They might make good blog topics!

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Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)