Who and Whom—Simplified
- On May 30, 2017
Pippa Middleton, sister to Princess Kate, got married a couple of weeks ago. You might wonder how news of this event has turned into a post about business writing.
The headlines in a New York Times preview of the not-quite-royal-wedding were my inspiration: Whom is Ms. Middleton marrying? Whom is Ms. Middleton wearing? Who is in the wedding party?
These burning questions drew me in as much for their flawless grammar as for the dish they touted.
In these examples, who and whom are acting as interrogative pronouns, so called because they’re opening questions. In spoken English—particularly when you’re talking casually—it’s generally acceptable to use who across the board, but in written business communication, it’s wise to use the correct pronoun.
Here’s how to know which one is the right choice:
• Who refers to the subject of the sentence—the person, or people, doing the action, so in the Middleton case, the people in the wedding party take who.
• Whom refers to the object of the sentence—the target of the action—so the person Ms. Middleton married takes whom, as does the designer whose dress she wore.
For the record, Ms. Middleton married James Matthews and wore Giles Deacon. As for the wedding party? She was attended by lots of adorable little boys and girls—some of them actually quite royal.