Relative Pronouns - Who or Whom?

Contributor: Kimberly Bennett. Lesson ID: 10958

Who can tell me to whom I should go to learn to use "who" and "whom" correctly? Stay here and watch instructive videos and take online and written quizzes to learn this important grammatical skill!

categories

Grammar

subject
English / Language Arts
learning style
Visual
personality style
Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!

Audio:

"To who ... er, whom, umm, who ... does this ... whose pen is this?"

Have you ever been stuck in the above situation?

Do you think "whom" is just a word you use when you want to sound fancy? There is an actual difference between these two relative pronouns and the way they are used in a sentence.

Let's begin by taking a look at a couple of sentences:

  1. My mother asked to whom I was speaking.
  2. Who wants dinner?
  3. The boy who sits behind me in math likes my sister.
  4. Will Mary, the girl with whom you share your gym locker, be at the game tonight?

Alright. Now that you have read the above sentences, do you feel as though you should be having tea with the Queen of England? That's how proper grammar feels. It's not just fancy talk ... it's correct.

Here's why:

Stated in the most simple form, use the pronoun "who" when you are referring to the human subject of the sentence (Remember, the subject is the person or thing doing the action.). "Who" replaces the subject pronouns "I," "he," "she," "they," and "we."

On the other hand, use whom when you are talking about a human object of the sentence; the person affected by the action. Who replaces all of your object pronouns: "me," "him," "her," "them," and "us." Whom also follows the infinitive (the word to + whom + verb). For example: "To whom will you give that flower?"

Take a moment to watch this Who versus Whom video from Grammatically Correct to gain a better understanding of how each word functions within a sentence and within clauses. Grab a pen and paper, because you may want to take a few reference notes!


So, now that you have an idea of the general rules, let's look at why the above sentences are correct, and not just fancy talk.

My mother asked to whom I was speaking.

In this first sentence, the pronoun is following the infinitive; one of the clearly-stated rules is that whom follows the infinitive. The word "to" also happens to be a preposition, followed by an object, so if you are ever stuck with who or whom, you know always to use whom after the word "to."


Who wants dinner?

To determine if this sentence is correct, let's try the subject or object test:

Is "who" a subject or an object in this sentence? Confused because it's a question? Then we can turn it into a statement by answering the question, "Who wants dinner?" Well, since I'm not Cookie Monster or a cave man, I would not say, "Me want dinner!" So, in this case, since "I" (or even he, she, or we) am the one performing the action of "wanting," we are safe in saying that "who" is indeed the subject, and therefore, the word "who" is used correctly.


The boy who sits behind me in math likes my sister.

This is another case for the subject or object test. We need to determine if "who" is actually doing any action or if "who" is receiving an action. Here's a case where we need to break the sentence apart into its separate clauses. So, when referring to the word "who," we need to ask what does "who" do? In this case, who "sits." Since "sits" is an action, "who" is correct. Let's switch it around to prove it is correct. "Who sits behind you in math? He does."


Will Mary, the girl with whom you share your gym locker, be at the game tonight?

Last, but not at all least, we have the object form of the pronoun located in an independent clause, right in the middle of the sentence. There are many ways you can go about proving this correct.

First of all, let's look and see who or what is performing the action in the clause. The verb in the clause is "share." We need to ask who or what is doing the sharing? You share your gym locker, so "you" is the subject. Who or what is receiving the benefit of "you" sharing? Is it the girl? Well, we would need to ask which girl. It's the girl with whom you share. In short, "whom" is an object pronoun referring to the girl receiving the action of you sharing your locker.

Too complicated? Go with the second method. The word "with" is a preposition. Prepositions have objects. "Whom" is the object of the preposition "which" in this sentence; therefore, as an object of the preposition, it must be an object pronoun.


Ok, let's try a few with a little guidance.

If you can replace the word with I, he, or her, who is correct. If you can replace the missing word with me, she, or him, whom is correct.

__________ did the dishes for me?

To _______ should I give the book?

Tell your parent or teacher your answer and why you chose the relative pronoun you did.

Now, continue on to the Got It? section for some written and online practice.

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