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:
- Write the clause without worrying about whether to use ‘who’ or ‘whom’
- Identify the verb
- 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!