According to the grammar rules:
- When describing the topic of a sentence, the term “who” should be used.
- When the word “whom” is the subject of a sentence or follows after a preposition, it should be used.
Both pronouns are relative. However, “who” is used as the “subject” of a sentence or clause to express who is doing something (like “he” or “she”). “Whom,” on the contrary, is employed as a verb or preposition’s direct or indirect object.
A Simple Rule to Distinguish Between Who and Whom
One way to choose the right word is he/him or she/her rule:
- If “who” or “whom” can be replaced with “he/she” in a phrase, you should use “who.”
Jesse was at the keyboard. > “Who” was at the keyboard? He was at the keyboard.
- If “who” or “whom” can be replaced with “him/her” in a phrase, you should choose “whom.”
At the event, I saw Marcus. > “Whom” did you see at the event? At the event, I saw him.
The guideline is that if the inquiry can be answered with “he,” then the interrogative sentence should employ “who,” as seen in these examples. If the question is answered with him, then whom should be used.
The Gardner was conversing with a man > To whom was the Gardner conversing? (The Gardner was conversing with a man; Who was the Gardner conversing with?)
Amanda’s brother is the man who was carrying the suitcases. (Amanda’s brother is the man who carried the suitcases.)
The girl whom I saw at the wedding is the sister of one of my friends. (The girl I saw at the wedding is the sister of one of my friends.)
The young lady with whom the tall man was conversing is Jay’s daughter. (The girl the tall man was conversing with is Jay’s daughter.)
“Who” is the subject of the sentence in the examples above, whereas “whom” is the object.
“Whom” is also used after prepositions.
Common Phrases with “Whom”
Here are some very friendly phrases that are commonly used in conversations:
Whom did you want me to call? (Who should I call?)
With whom did you go to the gym? (Who were you in the gym with?)
To whom It May concern. (This phrase is used to formally write to someone - the person is responsible for completing the job - we don’t know the person’s name. In greetings for business letters.)
The difference between “who” and “whom” is usually more important in written English than in everyday, colloquial English. In an informal conversation, either can usually be used, and mistakes are often not spotted even by English native speakers.
Still, it’s important to know the rules. It’s good practice to think of a few example sentences using who and whom to see the difference.