Who vs. Whom: Use These Tests to Know

Which of the two is correct?

Who should we invite to the event?

Whom should we invite to the event?

If you get confused over which of the two – who or whom – to use in such sentences, then this post is for you. Here we cover two straightforward tests, through several examples, that will lay your confusion to rest.

Which and that can create similar confusion. Learn more:

Who vs. whom

You would know that he, she, I, we, and they are pronouns that can replace nouns (for persons) in the subject position. Examples:

(Comments that go with examples are in square brackets.)

Susan left for office. [Comment: She can replace Susan.]

Mac and Susan have gone out for a client meeting. [They can replace Mac and Susan.]

You would also know that him, her, me, us, and them too are pronouns that can replace nouns (for persons) in the object position. Examples:

Susan gave a brief reply to Mac. [Him can replace Mac.]

Susan copied Tom and Mac on the email. [Them can replace Tom and Mac.]

Our understanding of pronouns is limited to common ones like we just saw. But pronouns cover a wider range. Who and whom too are pronouns, and like the ones we’ve discussed so far, they too refer to people.

Who always functions as subject pronoun like he, she, I, we, and they.

Whom, on the other hand, always functions as an object pronoun like him, her, me, us, and them.

To decide which of the two to use in a particular situation, see if it refers to the subject or to the object. If it refers to the subject, use who. If it refers to the object, use whom. Because that’s what they are: subject pronoun and object pronoun, respectively.

Remainder of the post will be dedicated to finding out who vs. whom through two tests. Since who and whom play two kinds of pronouns – interrogative pronoun and relative pronoun – we’ll divide the tests into these two categories.

1. How to decide who vs. whom in interrogative pronoun?

We commonly know them as question words because they often start questions.

Who passed by the room?

Whom do you report to?

Note that the second sentence ends with a preposition, which can be shifted to the front as well.

To whom do you report?

Prepositions are common with whom in its role as interrogative as well as relative pronoun. That’s because they often act as object of prepositions. Remember, whom is an object pronoun. That was little grammar point, which you can ignore.

Whenever you find who/whom accompanying a preposition, you can be fairly certain, without applying the tests that follow, that it’s whom and not who. (Next time, you get confused between to who and to whom, go with to whom without even thinking.) You can call it test zero. We’ll see few examples of this type.

Here is a test to identify who vs. whom in questions.

Test to decide who vs. whom in questions

Answer the question by filling in the missing person by a pronoun. If the pronoun is a subject pronoun (he, she, or they), who is the correct option. If the pronoun is an object pronoun (him, her, or them), whom is the correct option. Example:

Should we use who or whom in this question?

Who/whom took my book?

Let’s answer this question using both subject pronoun and object pronoun and see which makes sense.

She took my book. [This sounds fine.]

Her took my book. [This makes no sense.]

Since pronoun she is a subject pronoun, the correct option is who, a subject pronoun.

Who took my book?

Note that if we use he and him, we’ll get the same result. It doesn’t really matter which particular pronoun we use for the test.

Another example:

Who/whom did you go to movie with?

I went to movie with she. [This makes no sense.]

I went to movie with her. [This sounds fine. Since pronoun her is an object pronoun, the correct option is whom, an object pronoun.]

Whom did you go to movie with? [Whom is the correct option.]

2. How to decide who vs. whom in relative pronoun?

As relative pronoun, who and whom introduce dependent clauses called relative clauses (relative clauses have been underlined in all the examples).

The official, who somehow rose in ranks despite lack of merit, now heads a much larger department. [Who introduces the underlined relative clause and refers to the official. Remember, a pronoun stands in place of a noun.]

The official, whom management has confidence in, now heads a much larger department. [Whom introduces the underlined relative clause and refers to the official.]

Here is a test to identify who vs. whom in relative clauses.

Test to decide who vs. whom in relative clauses

Convert the relative clause into a sentence, replacing the relative pronoun (who/whom) with a pronoun for persons. If the pronoun is a subject pronoun (he, she, or they), who is the correct option. If the pronoun is an object pronoun (him, her, or them), whom is the correct option. Example:

Should we use who or whom in this sentence?

Employees who/whom management had forewarned about poor performance were asked to leave.

Let’s convert the relative clause into a sentence, replacing who/whom with a pronoun for persons. Note that a relative pronoun almost always refers to the noun immediately preceding it. Here, the relative pronoun refers to employees, which has then been replaced by they and them.

The management had forewarned they about poor performance. [This makes no sense.]

The management had forewarned them about poor performance. [This sounds fine.]

Since pronoun them is an object pronoun, the correct option is whom, an object pronoun.

Employees whom management had forewarned about poor performance were asked to leave.

Another example:

Employees who/whom performed poorly were asked to leave.

They performed poorly. [This sounds fine. Since pronoun they is a subject pronoun, the correct option is who, a subject pronoun.]

Them performed poorly. [This makes no sense.]

Employees who performed poorly were asked to leave. [Who is the correct option.]

Examples of deciding who vs. whom

In each of the examples that follow, the first sentence provides the two options of who and whom, the second applies the test we covered earlier, and the third is the correct answer. Try the second sentence with the opposite pronoun as well (example: try they if it’s them, like in the first example) and see how it sounds.

1. Who/whom should we invite to the event?

Test: We should invite them to the event. [Them is an object pronoun, implying whom as the correct option.]

Whom should we invite to the event?

2. He is the leader who/whom we all admire.

Test: We all admire him. [Him is an object pronoun, implying whom as the correct option.]

He is the leader whom we all admire.

3. Only the person who/whom is experiencing difficulties knows its cause and extent.

Test: He is experiencing difficulties. [He is a subject pronoun, implying who as the correct option.]

Only the person who is experiencing difficulties knows its cause and extent.

4. Who/whom is treating me with pizza?

Test: She is treating me with pizza. [She is a subject pronoun, implying who as the correct option.]

Who is treating me with pizza?

5. Who/whom were you talking to during the lunch break? [This is almost certainly whom because it’s accompanied by pronoun to. Remember, test zero. Nonetheless, let’s apply the test.]

Test: I was talking to him during the lunch break. [Him is an object pronoun, implying whom as the correct option.]

Whom were you talking to during the lunch break?

6. Fifty-two students have expressed interest in going for the trek, twenty of who/whom are interested in the toughest one. [This is almost certainly whom because it’s accompanied by pronoun of.]

Test: Twenty of them are interested in the toughest one. [Them is an object pronoun, implying whom as the correct option.]

Fifty-two students have expressed interest in going for the trek, twenty of whom are interested in the toughest one.

7. Who/whom do you suggest?

Test: I suggest him. [Him is an object pronoun, implying whom as the correct option.]

Whom do you suggest?

8. She is the person who/whom I recommended for the job.

Test: I recommended her for the job. [Her is an object pronoun, implying whom as the correct option.]

She is the person whom I recommended for the job.

9. Several candidates applied for the job, and unsurprisingly the person who/whom got selected has strong network.

Test: She got selected. [She is a subject pronoun, implying who as the correct option.]

Several candidates applied for the job, and unsurprisingly the person who got selected has strong network.

What happens in practice though?

In speaking, whom is rarely used even where it is required. For example, these go in speaking even though all of them require a whom.

Who should we invite to the event?

He is the leader who we all admire.

Who were you talking to during the lunch break?

I don’t remember who I gave my book to.

In writing though, we should stick to conventions. Whom, despite some dubbing it as archaic, has held its ground in written English. If we take books in Google Ngram Viewer as a proxy for use of whom, its use has held steady in nearly a century.

The above errors may go unnoticed even in writing, but a segment of whom won’t if you use who instead.

Fifty-two students have expressed interest in going for the trek, twenty of who are interested in the toughest one. [Whom is the correct option]

Twenty students appeared for the interview, most of who were shortlisted for the next round. [Whom is the correct option]

Never use who in place of whom when it is accompanied by a quantifier and a preposition (twenty of and most of in the above examples).

Exercises on who vs. whom

For each sentence below, choose between who and whom.

Exercise 1

1. Who/whom did you meet in the lobby?

2. I don’t know who/whom is the topic of today’s discussion.

3. The employee, who/whom the management promoted last month, has put in his papers.

4. I don’t remember who/whom I gave my book to.

5. A person who/whom is constantly changing his job and relationships won’t have depth in any of them and would be unfulfilled.

Answers to Exercise 1

1. Whom did you meet in the lobby?

Test: I met her in the lobby. [Her is an object pronoun, implying whom as the correct option.]

2. I don’t know who is the topic of today’s discussion.

Test: He is the topic of today’s discussion. [He is a subject pronoun, implying who as the correct option.]

3. The employee, whom the management promoted last month, has put in his papers.

Test: The management promoted him last month. [Him is an object pronoun, implying whom as the correct option.]

4. I don’t remember whom I gave my book to.

Test: I gave my book to him. [Him is an object pronoun, implying whom as the correct option. You can apply test zero as well here as it contains preposition to.]

5. A person who is constantly changing his job and relationships won’t have depth in any of them and would be unfulfilled.

Test: She is constantly changing his job and relationships. [She is a subject pronoun, implying who as the correct option.]

Exercise 2

1. The man who/whom none of us liked always wore a grey t-shirt.

2. Who/whom knows the direction to Midtown?

3. Twenty students appeared for the interview, most of who/whom were shortlisted for the next round.

4. People on who/whom power is vested should behave responsibly.

5. Who/whom do you trust?

Answers to Exercise 2

1. The man whom none of us liked always wore a grey t-shirt.

Test: None of us liked him. [Him is an object pronoun, implying whom as the correct option.]

2. Who knows the direction to Midtown?

Test: She knows the direction to Midtown. [She is a subject pronoun, implying who as the correct option.]

3. Twenty students appeared for the interview, most of whom were shortlisted for the next round.

Test: Most of them were shortlisted for the next round. [Them is an object pronoun, implying whom as the correct option. You can apply test zero as well here as it contains preposition of.]

4. People on whom power is vested should behave responsibly.

Test: Power is vested on them. [Them is an object pronoun, implying whom as the correct option. You can apply test zero as well here as it contains preposition on.]

5. Whom do you trust?

Test: I trust him. [Him is an object pronoun, implying whom as the correct option.]

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