The old baseball joke mixes up "who" is on first base. Not knowing where “who” and “whom” go in a sentence can be an easy thing to confuse as well. The good news is you can implement one simple rule to determine which one is the best word to use. You will only find "who" in the subject place of a sentence and "whom" goes in the object and after the preposition positions. Utilizing this helpful tip can help you cut down on the number of times you misuse these two pronouns.

Definition of “Who”

“Who” is considered a nominative or subjective pronoun. In other words, you can use “who” as the subject in a sentence. For example, you would say "Who is that man?" instead of "Whom is that man?" because "who" is the subject in the sentence and is followed by the verb. The word "whom" in the sentence doesn't function in the same subject-verb agreement. “Who” is used only for human beings and not for objects or animals. You wouldn't say "who is that animal?" because an animal isn't human. The word "whoever" follows the same grammatical rules as "who".

Definition of “Whom”

“Whom” is an objective pronoun. It acts as an object in the sentence and not as the subject. The same rules apply the word “whomever". The word "whom” should also only be used to refer to a human being. For example, you would say "whom are we looking for?" because the "whom" in the sentence is the object of the "looking".

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When to Use "Who"

Use “who” as the subject or as a complement to a linking verb like "are" or "is". To double-check your accuracy of using the word, substitute a personal pronoun, like “he” or “she” for “who.” If the sentence is grammatically correct with the substitution, then “who” is what you’re looking for. For example, “Sarah was the woman who wore the cute black boots” can be tested for accuracy with “She wore the cute black boots.”

When to Use "Whom"

Include “whom” as the object of a preposition or as the object of a verb. When you are unsure, use the substitution rule. If “him” or “her” can be substituted and the sentence works, use “whom.” You can turn the subjunctive clause around, if necessary, to test your sentence. For instance, “Billy is the guy whom I asked to watch my dog while I was away” can be tested with “I asked him to watch my dog while I was away.” It wouldn’t work if the sentence was “I asked he to watch my dog while I was away.”

Practical Application

In actuality, while there are grammatical rules that apply to "who" and "whom", in most conversations people won't take note of whether you use "who" or "whom". Because "whom" sounds a little awkward and too formal in tone for basic conversational English, people often just use "who" in contexts where it is too confusing to explain or either word seems to work.

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