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The “M” in “Whom” Stands for Mundane Grammar Rule—Really, Who Invented This?

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There are grammar challenges every native speaker overcomes intuitively. An example of this phenomenon is the distinction between “who” and “whom”.

How to use "who" and "whom"
There are certain grammar rules that are steadily loosing its validity, like “who” and “whom”.

The distinction between who and whom might appear as a minor concern, but it frustrates even native speakers from time to time. Before we dive into the prescriptive rules, please note that in some contexts—especially informal and spoken ones—it is completely fine to use who all the time. In elaborated writing, distinguishing between the two pronouns is the better solution.

The following sentences act as our examples:

Who is next, and to whom can I speak afterwards?
Everybody who wants to join and whom we have already contacted is welcome.

Who as well as whom can both serve as interrogative words (in questions) or as relative pronouns (in subordinate clauses). Here are three tricks to distinguish between them:

Replace the Pronoun in Doubt with “they” or “them”

Take the two cases in the first sentences, and ask yourself which one is correct:

a. They are next, and can I speak to they afterwards?

b. Them are next, and can I speak to them afterwards?

→ You’ll notice that the first part of a. and the second part of b. are the right options to choose. So, it must be who in the first case, and whom in the second one.

Remember

whom and them both end in “m”, who and they do not


Consider the Wording

If you look closely, you’ll see that the whom accompanies the preposition to in the first example sentence. After prepositions, you always stick to whom: It’s to whom, by whom, with whom, of whom, etc. Maybe you’ll recognize this pattern from popular sayings like:

To whom it may concern, …
I am talking about whomever I want to.

Look out for the Grammatical Function

Who is the subject of a sentence, whereas whom appears as a pronoun for the object. Refer to the second example, and you’ll see that there’s no preposition which tells you that it’s indeed a case of whom. Here, you have to ask yourself, who is the agent of the sentence and who is the one being acted upon:

Everybody who wants to join and whom we have already contacted is welcome.

The subject of the first clause is everybody. Who introduces the action that everybody does. In the second clause, however, you can find another subject besides everybody, namely we. So in this case, we have done something to everybody, which is the action of contacting.

Sorry, I can’t tell whom you’re looking for.
Whom did you see this morning?
Please note the three strategies:

1. Replace the pronoun in doubt with “they” or “them”

2. Consider the wording (esp. the prepositions)

3. Look out for the grammatical function (i.e., subject and object)

LanguageTool doesn’t care about to who(m) it’s most helpful (it just suggested the correct form “whom”). But again, it’s often entirely acceptable to disregard whom and only use who. It depends highly on who(m) you’re writing to, or who your audience is.


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