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Grammar Tips & Tidbits


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Who or Whom?

Who even uses the word "whom" nowadays? Not many people do, especially in everyday speech. When discussing this topic, even The Gregg Reference Manual (¶1061) concedes this point by including the following quote by novelist Calvin Trillin: "As far as I'm concerned, whom is a word that was invented to make everyone sound like a butler." No one wants to sound like a butler when they're speaking, except for butlers, of course! However, it is important to use the word whom correctly when you're writing, especially in academic or business documents.

So how do you know when it's appropriate to use the word whom? The simplest method I have come across is the he/him test. If you can substitute the word he in place of who/whom, you should use the word who. If you can substitute the word him in place of who/whom, you should use the word whom.

To recap: He = Who and Him = Whom.

I know what you're thinking: "Great! Now I have yet another grammar trick to remember!" Well, you'll be happy to know that I have developed a very easy memory trick for this one. The word him ends in the letter M, as does the word whom. So him = whom, because both end with the letter M. Clear as mud?

You will find that many sentences need to be rearranged before you can choose the appropriate word. To simplify matters, you only need to rearrange the clause that contains who or whom. Let's look at a few examples to clarify this further:

●  Who/Whom sent the email?  He sent the email. 
   Answer = Who.
 Who/Whom should I ask about this?  I should ask him
   Answer = Whom.
●  Who/Whom were you talking to?  You were talking to him
   Answer = Whom.
●  Who/Whom is your favorite actor?  He is your favorite actor. 
   Answer = Who.

OK, it's time for a little quiz! I have rearranged the sentences a bit to help you out. First decide whether he or him can be substituted, then pick who or whom using the rules above. You will find the answers at the bottom of the page.

A) I want to hire an assistant who/whom I can trust. 
    I can trust he/him.
B) Who/Whom do you think will win the game? 
will win the game.
C) The matter of who/whom should go has not been discussed.
should go.
D) The speaker who/whom we invited has changed his mind.
    Try this one yourself!

I hope this week's grammar tip helps you remember the rules for using who and whom when you're writing. By the way, are you starting to feel like a hooting owl yet? I know I am!


A) Him = Whom   
B) He = Who   
C) He = Who   
D) We invited him.  Him = Whom

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