By Geraldine Woods

Lately, some grammarians have given up on whom. In their view, few people use whom and even fewer use it properly. In some circles, the difference between who and whom still matters. If you’re writing or speaking to someone in those circles, you should understand proper usage of these pronouns. Who and whom tend to occur in complicated sentences.

If you untangle the sentence and figure out (pardon the expression) who is doing what to whom, you’ll be fine. Here’s the deal: If you need a subject (someone doing the action or someone in the state of being described in the sentence), who is your pronoun. If you need an object (a receiver of the action), go with whom.

A good trick is to see if you can substitute the words he or she or they. If so, go with who. If him, her, or them is a better fit, opt for whom.

Practice questions

Take a ride on the who/whom train and select the proper pronoun from the parentheses in the following sentences.

  1. Do you know (who/whom) the expert consulted?
  2. I once heard Peyton explain that those (who/whom) have honest faces can get away with anything.

Answers to practice questions

  1. whom. This sentence is easier to figure out if you isolate the part of the sentence containing the who/whom choice: who/whom the expert consulted. Now rearrange those words into the normal subject-verb order: the expert consulted whom. Whom is the object of the verb consulted.
  2. who. The verb have just has to have a subject (verbs are picky that way), so here you need who.