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What is the Difference Between Who and Whom?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 23, 2024
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English speakers live in a subject-object universe, which is an important thing to remember when dealing with pronouns such as "who" and "whom." In order to use these two words properly in a sentence, speakers need to know the difference between a subject and a direct object. "Who" usually takes the place of a subject, otherwise known as the nominative case. "Whom" generally replaces the direct object, also known as the accusative case.

A standard English sentence tends to follow a subject-verb-object pattern, although there are always variations. The subject either does something to the direct object, or else the subject just is the predicate nominative. In the sentence "I left class early today," the subject is "I." If a speaker wanted to turn that sentence into a question, he would use the subject form: "Who left class early today?" This word always replaces a noun acting as a subject or predicate nominative, as in "Someone as honest as Bill Johnson is who we need in office." While the actual subject may be "someone," the predicate nominative that matches "someone" is who. When the verb is considered intransitive, meaning it doesn't carry its action over to a direct object, then "who" is the proper pronoun to use.

On the object side of the sentence, however, things change. In the sentence "The teacher sent Alvin to the Principal's office," Alvin is the direct object or recipient of the action. A question formed from that sentence would read "Whom did the teacher send to the Principal's office?" This pronoun is the proper substitute for a noun being used as a direct object. "Whom shall I send?" could be reworked as "I shall send whom?" which might make the subject-verb-direct object relationship clearer. This term will never be used as the subject of a sentence, and "Who" will never be used in place of a direct object.

When in doubt, speakers or writers can use a quick substitution to decide between these terms. By substituting "I" or "me," the speaker should be able to hear which pronoun sounds more correct. "Who took the last cookie?" should sound better as "I took the cookie." than "Me took the cookie." In the same way, a question such as "Kelly Smith invited me to the prom," should be rendered as "Whom did Kelly Smith invite to the prom?" instead of "Who did Kelly Smith invite to the prom?" Subjects are matched with subjects, and direct objects are matched with direct objects.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to Language & Humanities, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By anon332831 — On May 01, 2013

Please answer this question:

The boy ___ you met yesterday is my best friend.

1)who 2)whom 3)that 4)all choices

By anon272400 — On Jun 01, 2012

Which is correct? "Share it with your friends whom love Lucy" or "Share it with your friends who love Lucy."

By anon237843 — On Dec 31, 2011

The "I" and "me" trick will help greatly. Thanks!

By smartfellow — On Mar 29, 2011

"Who do you think is going to win tomorrow? England or France?"

or: "Whom do you think is going to win tomorrow? England or France?"

Which one is appropriate? Please advise. Thank you.

By anon138426 — On Jan 01, 2011

I have trouble with grammar. can someone help me with these sentences?

1) He was also said to have been interrogated by the Roman Emperor Claudius II, (who/Whom) tried to convert him to Roman paganism.

2) this card was given to his love, the jailer's daughter, (who/whom) he had befriended.

3) ...and toast the Christian martyr (who/whom) was persecuted so long ago.


By anon131047 — On Nov 30, 2010

I have a sentence in which I do not know if I should use who/whom. Can anyone help?

The squad must also think about 'who' they really are.

The squad must also think about 'whom' they really are.


By amypollick — On Aug 09, 2010

@Anon102582: "Whom I missed" would be correct, since "whom" refers to "people."

Please permit my English major to rear her grammarian head to suggest a better wording for this sentence: "Tomorrow, I will have the pleasure of seeing some people whom I missed."

By anon102582 — On Aug 08, 2010

Would it be "I have the pleasure of seeing some people whom I missed tomorrow."


"I have the pleasure of seeing some people who I missed tomorrow"?

By anon97691 — On Jul 20, 2010

to 19: I do believe that should be "Dana, /who/ is dynamic".

By anon70492 — On Mar 14, 2010

Dana, whom is dynamic, shows confidence and creativity in the classroom Does anyone know if this sentence should be used with who or whom?

By anon69052 — On Mar 05, 2010

i think the easiest way to learn this rule is by thinking of how one would answer the question.

For example:

"To whom do you wish to speak?"

I wish to speak to *him*. (When you use him/her/them, then the question would have "whom," not "who.")

On the other hand,

"Who went to the party last weekend?

*He* did. (When you are able to use "he, she, they, then "who" should be used in the question, rather than "whom.")

hope this helps!

By anon58246 — On Dec 31, 2009

"Whom do I invite" would be proper.

The person receiving your invitation would be the direct object.

By anon56908 — On Dec 18, 2009

@anon55412: Those are both wrong. The subject is "you" and the verb is "beaten". You are beaten. Secondly, you should not end a sentence with a preposition. The proper way to say it is:

"By whom were you beaten?"

Try the Me/I test if you can't understand it.

By anon56187 — On Dec 12, 2009

So, do you say, 'Who left the class early today', or 'whom left the class early today'?

Do you say, "Who do I invite?" or "Whom do I invite?"

Do you say, this is probably the hardest thing I've ever done.

By anon55412 — On Dec 07, 2009

In a nutshell - Who is used when the action is being done by noun being replaced. Whom is receiving the action from the direct object.

Whom do you love the most?

...respect him for who he is.

...who fills my heart with joy.

The proper way to ask the question is "Who were you beaten by," not "You were beaten by who?" You is the direct object, who is the noun, not a recipient of an action.

By anon53915 — On Nov 25, 2009

Huh. Helpful, but I don't know if I should use "whom" in the question "Who do you love most?"

By anon51141 — On Nov 03, 2009

in the sentence "You will look back and be glad you respect him for ____ he is." in the blank do you use who or whom?


By anon50246 — On Oct 27, 2009

Hello to you who fills my heart with joy?/or whom?

By anon48273 — On Oct 11, 2009

"the girls, who didn't want to go, set out on their journey" is right because 'girls' is main subject here.

By anon42893 — On Aug 24, 2009

What about "by"? You were beaten by "whom"? or

You were beaten by "who"?

By anon42475 — On Aug 21, 2009

anon35859--If you actually read the article, the answer to your question will be obvious.

By anon35859 — On Jul 08, 2009

what is correct?

he sent the letter to who?

he sent the letter to whom?

By anon30377 — On Apr 18, 2009

Erm, anon29136:

How can 'several' represent the girls? And in what way is "of who" a possessive?

The correct answer is:

The girls, several of which did not want to go, set off on their journey.

By anon29136 — On Mar 27, 2009

I would say the answer to the question would be "several of whom...". Ordinarily, the pronoun would take the case of the noun it replaces, so if the sentence had been "The girls, who did not want to go at first, set out on their journey", all would be well.

The additional of "of", however, changes things. The word "several" is now the substitute for "girls", and the "of who" is a possessive of "several".

By anon27771 — On Mar 05, 2009

Hi, could you please tell me which one of the sentences below is the correct one to use? Thank you lots.

"The girls, several of *whom* did not want to go, set out on their journey."

"The girls, several of *who* did not want to go, set out on their journey."

By anon10211 — On Mar 22, 2008

Wow. That is very confusing but very interesting. I have never known the difference!

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to Language & Humanities, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a...
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