Today we will look at the difference between who and whom. But before we do, here is a short disclaimer:
Beware, many native English speakers no longer believe in making a difference between who and whom. This is especially true in spoken English, where -- it may be safe to say -- less than 5% of all speakers actually use whom (my own numbers). In fact, people will almost look down upon those who do use whom instead of the more colloquial and ubiqitious who. That said, it is a question that English students consistently ask: What is the difference between who and whom? And a question that more and more English teachers find themselves unprepared to answer.Who
Who is a pronoun which takes the place of the subject (conveniently called a subject pronoun!). Therefore, it will always be followed by a verb.
1. John, who is my best friend, was not at the party.
2. The man who is standing at the bus stop is someone I used to work with.
In the example 1 above, who is replacing John. We could rewrite the meaning of that sentence into two shorter phrases: John was not at the party. John is my best friend. Notice that here, in the second sentence, is where who replaces John in the example.
In example 2 above, we would have: The man is someone I used to work with. The man is standing at the bus stop. Again, who replaces "the man" in the second sentence. Notice in both the examples that a verb directly follows who.
Whom is an object pronoun, meaning that it will always replace the object of a verb. In other words, it will never be used as the subject of a verb, and therefore will be followed by another subject (pronoun, place, person, object, etc.) and a verb.
1. John, whom I spoke to yesterday, plans to come to the party this Saturday.
2. The man whom I saw at the bus stop was someone I used to work with.
As in example 1 above, you'll notice that whom is no longer the subject of the verb "speak". In fact, if we broke it down into two sentences, you'll notice that whom replaces the object of the action: the person I spoke to. John plans to come to the party this Saturday. I spoke to John yesterday. Notice that whom replaces the second John, now the person I spoke to, and not the person doing the speaking.
In example 2, the sentence would look like this: The man was someone I used to work with. I saw the man at the bus stop. Again, in the second phrase, the man didn't do anything. Whom replaces the second "man", which is simply receiving the action of the verb.
Now, the question comes to mind: if native English speakers are not using this correctly and even getting confused on the use of who and whom, should non-native speakers worry about it? As an English teacher, there is a big part of me that says no. Don't worry about whom. Throw it away, forget about it, and be a happier student! But, then again, the student in me feels proud when I know something the teacher doesn't. So, the only one who can really answer that question, in my opinion, is you.
Post a comment and let me know your true feelings about who and whom!