Who and Whom :
One of the most frequently asked questions about grammar is about choosing between the various forms of the pronoun who
: who, whose, whom, whoever, whomever. The number (singular or plural) of the pronoun (and its accompanying verbs) is determined by what the pronoun refers to; it can refer to a singular person or a group of people:
- The person who hit my car should have to pay to fix the damages.
- The people who have been standing in line the longest should get in first.
It might be useful to compare the forms of who to the forms of the pronouns he and they. Their forms are similar:
| ||Subject |
To choose correctly among the forms of who, re-phrase the sentence so you choose between he and him. If you want him, write whom; if you want he, write who.
- Who do you think is responsible? (Do you think he is responsible?)
- Whom shall we ask to the party? (Shall we ask him to the party?)
- Give the box to whomever you please. (Give the box to him.)
- Give the box to whoever seems to want it most. (He seems to want it most. [And then the clause "whoever seems to want it most" is the object of the preposition "to."])
- Whoever shows up first will win the prize. (He shows up first.)
The number of people who use "whom" and "who" wrongly is appalling. The problem is a difficult one and it is complicated by the importance of tone, or taste. Take the common expression, "Whom are you, anyways?" That is of course, strictly speaking, correct — and yet how formal, how stilted! The usage to be preferred in ordinary speech and writing is "Who are you, anyways?" "Whom" should be used in the nominative case only when a note of dignity or austerity is desired. For example, if a writer is dealing with a meeting of, say, the British Cabinet, it would be better to have the Premier greet a new arrival, such as an under-secretary, with a "Whom are you, anyways?" rather than a "Who are you, anyways?" — always granted that the Premier is sincerely unaware of the man's identity. To address a person one knows by a "Whom are you?" is a mark either of incredible lapse of memory or inexcusable arrogance. "How are you?" is a much kindlier salutation.
The only problem most writers have with whose is confusing it with who's, which looks like a possessive but is really the contraction for who is. In the same way that we should not confuse his with he's (the contraction for he is or he has), we should not confuse whose with who's.
- Who's that walking down the street?
- Whose coat is this?
- I don't care whose paper this is. It's brilliant!
Whose can be used to refer to inanimate objects as well as to people (although there is a kind of folk belief that it should refer only to humans and other mammals): "I remember reading a book — whose title I can't recall right now — about a boy and a basenji."