Blog Post

‘Whom’ – downtrodden & forgotten

I think it’s time to start a campaign to save ‘whom’.

Either that, or I’m going to have to get over my tendency to correct the mistakes that I notice. I’m constantly muttering ‘it’s whom’ to the radio, tv, newspaper, whatever magazine or book I’m reading, and presenters at  events.

The real problem for me is that, in correcting the who/whom errors that I notice, I often miss out on important content … the stuff that I really need to know.

I find Janice Bell’s discussion about who/whom particularly useful. It’s from her book ‘Clean, well-lighted sentences’ (2008).

Bell suggests that, when faced with the who/whom question, writers should:

  1. Write the clause without worrying about whether to use ‘who’ or ‘whom’
  2. Identify the verb
  3. Look to the left of the verb to see what the subject is.

If there’s no other subject, then ‘who’ is the right choice (because ‘who’ is a subject). But if there’s another subject already relating to the verb, then ‘whom’ is the right choice.

This is her summary: ‘…use ‘who’ when an upcoming verb needs a subject; use ‘whom’ when an upcoming verb already has a subject’ (p. 8).

And, while there are some confusing situations (which Bell covers), it usually is that simple!

Maybe ‘whom’ is becoming a bit like the semicolon … use it to show that you understand it!