We avoided it as long as we could, but it was bound to come up sooner or later. Today, we’re covering the apparent mother of all grammatical quandaries: who vs. whom.

Who vs Whom: Or How to Misuse a Pronoun

Subject vs. Object

I know, I know, I’m not talking about who vs. whom yet. I’ll get there! But it’ll be a lot easier to understand how to use those pronouns once we brush up on our subjects and objects.

Subjects and objects are both nouns (or pronouns). But they play different roles in a sentence.

The subject is usually found at the very beginning of a sentence, and is closely followed by a verb. The subject is the thing doing the verb’s action.

Take a look at this example:

Kyle trembled.

The verb is “trembled.” Kyle, the noun, is the one who does the trembling. So Kyle is the subject of the sentence.

The object, on the other hand, often comes somewhere after the verb. The object doesn’t do the action of the verb. Instead, it receives the action. Put another way, the action is done to it.

Kyle saw a therapist.

In this sentence, Kyle is still the subject. He’s the one who “saw.” The therapist didn’t see; instead, he was seen. So the therapist is the object of the sentence.

Clear as mud? Let’s take it to the next level.

The Difference Between Who and Whom

Put simply, who is a subjective pronoun. Whom is an objective pronoun.

Who refers to the subject of a sentence. It goes along with the other subjective pronouns, like he, she, we, and they.

Whom refers to the object of a sentence. It fits in with him, her, us, and them.

When to Use Who vs. Whom

Let’s build up to using who and whom in sentences by creating some examples to play with:

Kyle suffered from severe stage fright.

He had just started seeing his therapist.

Once again, Kyle is the subject of the first sentence: he’s the one who “suffered.” This means that in this sentence, whenever we refer to Kyle, we can use whoWho suffered? Kyle.

“He” (meaning Kyle, of course) is also the subject of the second sentence: Kyle’s the one who “had just started seeing.” The therapist is the object of the sentence, the one being seen. He’s not doing an action; the action is being done to him.

Therefore, whenever we refer to Kyle’s therapist in this sentence, we can use whom. Kyle saw whom? His therapist.

Who vs. Whom in Action

Let’s take a look at these pronouns in action by beefing up our examples:

Kyle, who suffered from severe stage fright, often wondered how he ended up in his line of work as the Channel 4 weatherman.

Kyle hated that his therapist, whom he had just started seeing, didn’t seem to take his phobia seriously.

This might look complicated, but it’s not as bad as it seems. Just keep your subjects and objects in mind, and you’ll be fine.

Kyle is the subject of the first sentence: he’s the one who “often wondered.” He’s also the one who “suffered.” So we use who to refer to Kyle.

Kyle is also the subject of the second sentence: he’s the one who “hated” something about his therapist, and he’s the one who “started seeing.” The therapist, on the other hand, is the object of the sentence. Once again, he’s not the one “seeing,” but the one being seen. So we use whom to refer to Kyle’s therapist.

How do you remember when to use who vs. whom? Let me know in the comments.

PRACTICE

Write for fifteen minutes about a doctor/psychiatrist/veterinarian with an unusual patient. Use who and whom properly as the bewildering situation unfolds.

Post your practice in the comments. And if you share, be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers!

Liz Bureman
Liz Bureman

Liz Bureman has a more-than-healthy interest in proper grammatical structure, accurate spelling, and the underappreciated semicolon. When she’s not diagramming sentences and reading blogs about how terribly written the Twilight series is, she edits for the Write Practice, causes trouble in Denver, and plays guitar very slowly and poorly. You can follow her on Twitter (@epbure), where she tweets more about music of the mid-90s than writing.