Knowing when to use who or whom in a sentence is a challenge to those it may concern. But figuring out which of these pronouns to use is really easy and simply a case of identifying the subject (who is doing the thing) and the object (to whom the thing is being done).
The simplest method of identifying the correct pronoun to use is substitution.
If you substitute in any of the personal pronouns (me, they, she, I, him, us, etc) from the following group of words and find that your sentence no longer makes sense, you are using who or whom incorrectly:
Who – substitute I/he/she/we/they
Whom – substitute me/him/her/us/them
Substituting in the personal pronoun you is a special case because it works either way, so it’s best not to use it to test your understanding.
The usage of who or whom may be explained in more formal terms:
Who – refers to the subject of a sentence.
Whom – refers to the object of a verb or preposition.
Let’s start with the title of this blog post:
To Whom It May Concern
It may concern [me/him/her/us/them], so Whom is correct.
It doesn’t concern [I/he/she/we/they], so Who is not correct.
Here are some correct examples:
For Whom The Bell Tolls. The bell tolls for [me/him/her/us/them].
Who Let The Dogs Out? [I/he/she/we/they] let the dogs out.
Whodunnit? [I/he/she/we/they] dunnit.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Judge Doom [he] framed Roger Rabbit.
The Man Who Knew Too Much. Dr McKenna [he] knew too much.
Who are you? [We] are The Who.
To whom are you referring? I’m referring to The Who [them].
Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters [they] will be called.
To whom should I address my concern that my apartment building has been taken over by a powerful supernatural force? The concern should be addressed to Ghostbusters [them].
Who will destroy the asteroid that threatens to wipe out all life on Earth? Harry Stamper and his drilling team [they] will do it.
Jenny and her father, with whom she had reconciled since the comet was discovered, spent their final moments standing on the beach waiting for the tsunami to hit. Jenny had recently reconciled with her father [him].
Who are these people and why are they in quarantine? These people [they] have been infected with an alien virus and are taking part in a vaccine trial.
Is this the group of people on whom the vaccine will be tested? Yes, the vaccine will be tested on this group [them].
To whom does the World Health Organisation (WHO) report? The World Health Organisation is a specialised agency of the United Nations (UN) [them] and its supreme decision-making body is the World Health Assembly (WHA) [them].
In my post, Me, Myself and I, I address another common error, the misuse of the subjective and objective personal pronouns, I and me, and describe the simple way of determining the correct form to use. Examples of misuse will be drawn from film/TV scripts, where writers should know better – as well as song lyrics, the writers of which often ignore the rules to make their lyrics rhyme. You might also like my article One Space or Two? which clarifies how many spaces should follow a full stop. Period.