Who vs. Whom: A Guide to Using These Pronouns Correctly

Grammar Rules updated on  September 26, 2023 5 min read

Use who to refer to someone who is doing an action, and use whom to refer to someone to whom an action is being done to.

When to use who or whom seems like such a sticky and nebulous grammar point that even native English speakers get it wrong all the time (those tricky, commonly confused words are everywhere). But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Who and whom are pronouns—words we use in place of nouns. Deciding which one to use is all about understanding how they function in the sentence. Below, we’ll look closely at some who vs. whom examples in sentences and give you quick tips for nailing down the right one.

How to use who

Who is a subject pronoun, meaning it replaces the noun that performs the action in a phrase or sentence. Here are some sentence examples:

Who would like to take a walk?

Kendi wanted to know who came up with the gift idea.

The teacher, who was sick that day, had no idea what she had missed out on.

The kids were born into a family who had been in poverty for over 30 years.

It was a question of who could do the most effective job among the team members.

How to use whom

On the other hand, whom is an object pronoun. That means it replaces a noun that an action in a phrase or sentence is being done to. In many of these cases, like the last two examples below, whom comes after a preposition.

Whom was the email addressed to? or To whom was the email addressed?

It was a question of who could do the most effective job among the team members.

I don’t know whom the doctor will see next.

Five guys ate hamburgers, two of whom wolfed them down within three minutes.

This is the group with whom I’ve been collaborating on the art installation.

How to know when to use whom

If your brain starts melting when you think of grammar terms like subject pronoun and object pronoun, don’t worry. Getting it right doesn’t require you to become a grammar master. Try this one simple trick (no, seriously), and you’ll pick the right one every time.

If you replace who/whom with him or them, will it still make grammatical sense? If the answer is yes, use whom. This is easy to remember because whom, him, and them all end with m.

To use this method correctly, you have to make sure you’re looking at the right part of the sentence. If the sentence is a question or “I don’t know” statement, look at its answer. If it’s not, look at the phrase with a verb most closely related to who/whom.

For example, in “Kendi wanted to know who came up with the gift idea,” came up with the gift idea is more closely related to who than Kendi wanted to know is. So that’s the phrase you would look at to see whether you can replace who with him (you can’t, so who is correct). Here are a few more examples:

Common mistakes and exceptions with who and whom

Though the tip we gave you above is simple, this is still the English language, so of course there are exceptions to the rule.

Linking verbs with who or whom

One kind of case that seems like an exception relates to linking verbs, which are not actions. Instead, they’re used to describe the condition or existence of something. Let’s look at some examples:

Who was it?

Shara was planning to bathe the dog, who smelled bad.

I asked out a girl who seemed fun.

In these sentences, the verb most closely related to who is not really an action. Whenever this happens, who is the right choice. But you could say the previous rule still applies to all of these because in the most closely related phrase, the noun is “doing” the action and who can’t be replaced with him (it has to be he).

Who or whom in casual speech

Often, speaking English correctly is about whether what you’re saying “sounds right” rather than whether it’s grammatically correct. This applies to who vs. whom much of the time, especially in casual settings.

For instance, who and whom are basically interchangeable when they begin questions in everyday conversation, and when they appear in sentences like these:

Who/whom was the email addressed to?

I don’t know who/whom the doctor will see next.

Jan hasn’t decided who/whom she’s going to attend with.

The man who/whom I called to fix the car is not responding today.

She fired the employee, who/whom she described as dishonest..

In all of these examples, the technically correct choice is whom, but if you use who in a casual setting, chances are nobody will give it a second look.

How to choose between who or whom

When it comes to linking verbs, you need to use who to sound natural in English. You also need to know the difference between who and whom in formal settings, such as in academic writing.

The need to get it right often leads writers to use whom when they shouldn’t because it sounds more formal. And because of that link with formality, in casual conversation, using whom can come across as pretentious even when it’s correct—leading to the opposite error of choosing who incorrectly.

But stay calm. The bottom line is that in person, at work, or even in a formal speech, you might use who or whom wrong grammatically but still sound okay. And in either formal or casual settings, you don’t have to figure it out alone—QuillBot’s Grammar Checker is always available to help.

The Grammar Checker draws on the power of AI and machine learning to scan countless documents written by writers of all kinds. It uses this knowledge to tell you which word is correct within seconds, and to power QuillBot’s other helpful writing tools, like the Paraphraser and Translator.

Who or whom—quick tips

Whether you’re a native English speaker or not, you can use who and whom the right way to raise your credibility and communicate more clearly. Remembering any of the following tips can help you choose the right one:

  1. The person performing the action is who, while the one having the action done to them is whom.
  2. If you can replace it with him or them, use whom. If not, use who.
  3. If it comes after a preposition, whom is probably right.
  4. If the verb is not an action, use who.
  5. If you’re really not sure, ask QuillBot.

Who or whom—who knows? Now you do, and you have QuillBot. That’s all you need for great writing.

When should I use who and whom?

Use who for the person doing the action, and use whom for the person the action is being done to.

What is a common mistake people make with who and whom?

A lot of people use whom when they want to sound more formal and use who to sound more casual. While this is often correct, it can also lead to errors.


Hannah Skaggs

Along with Paige Pfeifer

Hannah, a writer and editor since 2017, specializes in clear and concise academic and business writing. She has mentored countless scholars and companies in writing authoritative and engaging content.

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