Friday, October 7, 2011

Is Whom a Made up Word?

There are so many grammar mistakes out there, that we cannot possibly cover them all in one post... probably not even in a hundred posts! There is really no way to even systematically cover them all, so we will just wing it! Today we are going to review who/whom.

I can already feel some of you cringing. By the time we are done, you will love it!

Every time I see the word whom, I get a flashback to The Office. My favorite line is when Creed says "Micheal is right, it (whom) is a made up word used to trick students"  to which Oscar replies "Obviously, it is a real word- but I don't know how to use it correctly."

I laugh hysterically every time I see that episode (to get the full transcript of that scene click here!)

Creed isn't completely wrong in his sentiment! It does feel like the who/whom conundrum is simply a cruel teaser to confuse people. But it is not. Nor is whom the formal version of the word who, despite some people's desire. Honestly, sometimes I feel like someone throws whom into a sentence because they think it sounds more scholarly... but if you use it wrong, it makes you look less scholarly! So, how do you know what is right?

Well, as Pam says in The Office "It's whom when it is the object of a sentence and who when as the subject."

...And some of your eyes just glazed over... right?

Who in this group has diagrammed sentences since third grade? (I technically did it last year with my son, so I get to raise my hand!) Most people learn diagramming sentences once and then we don't use it again. We go based on whether it sounds or "feels" right. But with terms that are not commonly used, such as whom, we have not had enough exposure to know what sounds right.

So here is a fun, quick, little test (rather than trying to diagram your sentence!)  Take the sentence you are trying to analyze and substitute who/whom for a personal pronoun. If it is replaced for a subjective pronoun (I you, we, he/she, it, they.) then you use who. If it is replaced with an objective pronoun (me, him, her, it, us, them) then you use whom.


Who/whom shall I say is coming for dinner?
When re-phrased saying shall I say him just sounds silly. shall I say he... yup. (Oh, and you thought it was supposed to be whom because that sounds right? Don't trust me? Check out this Daily writing tips article!)

Whoever/whomever said life was easy was wrong!
He said life was easy... him said life was easy.  It is definitely whoever!

Whom/who do you like?
Answer the question. Do you like him or he? AHHHH!!!!!!

The men, four of whom/who were ill, could not afford the room.
four of they, or four of them!

Mrs. Nesbitt is the woman whom/who I had tea with last week. 
I had tea with her, I had tea with she....

Once you know this simple cheat, it becomes easy to figure out who/whom, whoever/whomever!!

Never let whoever torment you however they may! (who is tormenting you, he is tormenting you!)

Any tips or questions about specific instances where you are not sure which is right? Ask in the comments below!


  1. I love this. Great examples. I did notice that individuals can still be tripped up if they use normal word replacement tests though. For instance...

    "Never let whoever torment you however they may!"

    In this section some may look at the whoever and feel it appropriate to replace it with "them" be aware of this trip wire though. Saying:
    Never let them torment you however they may!

    is not quite the same as:
    Never let whomever torment you however they may!


  2. *Blushes* Excellent point Kevin! Glad you caught that!!