Welcome to the second instalment of the MEI Grammar Workshop. Today we’re looking at the correct usage of the pronouns “who” and “whom”, something even seasoned English speakers can mix up.
To first understand the difference between the two, we need to understand the difference between subjects and objects.
We looked at this in our previous workshop but no harm in a reminder.
In short, the subject of the sentence is the one doing the action, and the object is the one who is having the action done to them.
So in the phrase “John spoke to Karen”, John is the subject (the one doing the action) and Karen is the object (the one receiving the action).
So, to apply this to “who” and “whom”.
In short, use “whom” when you are referring to the object of the sentence.
For example, if someone asked “whom did John speak to?”, they are grammatically correct, as the question they are asking is referring to the object (who in this case is Karen, the receiver of the action).
On the other hand, use “who” when referring to the subject of the sentence.
In our example, if someone asked “who spoke to Karen?”, they are asking about the subject of the sentence (who in this case is John, the doer of the action) and are therefore correct.
It can be a bit confusing but you’ll get it. See the video below for some further advice on “who” vs “whom”.