- On April 5, 2019
Here is a line of copy from a piece I was recently asked to edit: Make a list of the people who you will ask for help.
The who in the sentence should be whom: Make a list of the people whom you will ask for help.
The grammatical explanation for when to use the pronouns who and whom can be tricky, but I’m going to give you two tricks for getting it right.
First you need to know that who refers to the subject of the sentence, that is the person (or people) doing the action. Think of who as the cousin of I, she, he and they. Who ate the candy? He ate the candy. Whom, on the other hand, refers to the object of the sentence, that is the person (or people) receiving the action. Its cousins are me, her, him, and them. Whom did she choose? She chose him.
Now back to the very first sentence and trick No. 1: Mentally recast the sentence by thinking about the people you’ll turn to for help. You’ll ask them because they live nearby, and you’ll ask him because he has a car, making whom the correct choice.
Which leads me to trick No. 2: Them and him both end in m, as does whom. (If you can remember that her is in the same family, you’re all set.)
Most grammarians and style experts agree that while it is acceptable to use who across the board in spoken English, it is not in writing, so I hope this explanation does the trick.
Next up: Whoever and whomever!