Who vs. Whom: The Ultimate Guide to Getting It Right

Who vs. Whom: The Ultimate Guide to Getting It Right

who vs whom: the ultimate guide

Who and whom are commonly confused words. In fact, many native English speakers don’t know the difference between them. You will often see the words used interchangeably in error, but there are simple ways to choose which one you should use.

If you want your writing (and speech) to sound more professional, getting words like who and whom correct is important. Let’s look at the words in more depth to understand how they work in a sentence.

Are Who and Whom Interchangeable?

Officially, you can’t interchange these two words. However, you will find that some native English speakers avoid using whom altogether or use it incorrectly.

Who and whom have the same meaning and both are often used in questions, but in different ways. Choosing which one you need depends on whether you are referring to the subject or the object of the sentence.

  • Subject: The person is completing the action in the sentence. You need to use the pronoun who.
  • Object: The person is receiving the action of the verb. Use the pronoun whom.

subject vs object: when to use who and whom

Let’s look at two examples to spot the difference:

Sentence A: Who is going to the party?
Sentence B: Whom should I invite to the party?

In sentence A, you could answer who with a person’s name. They are the subject of the sentence. But in sentence B, whom is the object of the verb invite.

Which Part of Speech Is Who vs. Whom?

Did you notice both the previous examples were questions? Who and whom are interrogative pronouns often (but not always) used to ask questions. Whom refers to the object of a noun or preposition and who refers to the subject of the question.

Like the pronouns I, he, and she, who is the subject of the sentence. This is the person performing the action. Whom is an object pronoun like me, him, and her. We often use it when the person is unknown.

subject and object pronoun examples

Let’s check out another example:

In this sentence, Tony is doing something; he’s eating. That means he’s the subject of the sentence. You could replace Tony’s name with who to form a question:

What if we want to use whom instead? We can flip the sentence and make the sandwich the subject and Tony the object:

  • The sandwich was eaten by Tony.

Now the subject of the sentence (the sandwich) is not performing the action. The sandwich isn’t the one doing the eating! We could replace the sandwich with whom to ask the question:

  • By whom was the sandwich eaten?

Using Who and Whom to Detect Passive Voice

Notice how The sandwich was eaten by Tony is longer and less direct?

This sentence is written in the passive voice—the main actor in the sentence is not the subject.

It’s quicker and more engaging to write Tony ate the sandwich. This places the main actor at the forefront of your reader’s mind.

If you can replace the subject of your sentence with whom, you’re probably writing in the passive voice. Try changing your sentence so that you could replace the subject with who to turn it into the active voice.

Or, for a quicker way to spot passive voice, use ProWritingAid.

passive voice suggestion in prowritingaid

Our editing tool will highlight all instances of passive voice in your document and offer active re-wordings, helping you make your writing more engaging in just a few clicks.

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How to Tell When to Use Who

Not sure if you should use who? Don’t worry; there’s a simple trick to help. All you have to do is answer the question you’re posing and see whether you’re using he or she in your reply. If you are, then who is correct.

Which of these sentences is correct?

Sentence A: Who ate my snack?
Sentence B: Whom ate my snack?

Try answering it by adding she or he in the answer to check:

Because you can use she, sentence A is correct: Who ate my snack?

example of how to tell when to use who

How to Tell When to Use Whom

So what about when to use whom? Just like in the example above, try answering your own question. If you have to use him or her or them in your reply, you’ll need to use whom.

Which of these sentences is correct?

Sentence A: To who is the package being sent?
Sentence B: To whom is the package being sent?

Reply to this question by using him, her, or them:

  • The package is being sent to him.

That makes the correct answer sentence B: To whom is the package being sent?

example of how to tell when to use whom

Using Whom with a Preposition

You might have seen to whom it may concern written in a letter. This can give the false impression that whom is used to sound formal. In fact, whom is always used instead of who after the prepositions to, for, with, and of.

For example:

  • To whom should I send the invitation?
  • For whom is this parcel?
  • The children, one of whom dislikes loud noises, will be with us all weekend.
  • My friend, with whom I’ve travelled the world, has come to visit.

Who or Whom? Easy Ways to Remember

Now we’ve fully explored the differences between who and whom, let’s recap the simple ways you can tell which one you need.

Use who if:

  • You’re referring to the subject of the sentence
  • It can be answered with she or he

Use whom if:

  • You’re speaking about the object of the sentence
  • The question can be answered with him, her, or them
  • It follows the preposition to, for, of or with

summary table of when to use who and whom

Commonly Confused Who and Whom Questions

You’ll spot lots of people online asking questions about whether to use who or whom. Here are a few of the most commonly asked queries for us to look at.

  • Correct: Who are you?
  • Incorrect: Whom are you?

Tip: Who is used for the subject of a sentence.

  • Correct: To whom …. ?
  • Incorrect: To who …. ?

Tip: Use whom after the preposition to.

  • Correct: Who is who?
  • Incorrect: Whom is who?

Tip: If you can replace the word with a name or she or he then use who, e.g. Who is who? = Who is Kelly?

  • Correct: Whom should I contact?
  • Incorrect: Who should I contact?

Tip: Use whom for the object of a verb.

  • Correct: Who else wants cake?
  • Incorrect: Whom else wants cake?

Tip: If you can answer the question with he or she, use who.

  • Correct: Whom are you supporting?
  • Incorrect: Who are you supporting

Tip: Use whom if you can answer with him or her.

Are Who and Whom Only Used for Questions?

Who and whom are often used in questions, but not always.

For example:

  • A child who is hungry can’t learn properly.
  • The employee with whom I spoke said I could have a refund.

You can still work out whether you need who or whom by looking at the subject and object of the sentence.

Native English Usage

Many native English speakers don’t use whom at all, thinking it sounds old-fashioned or pretentious. Instead, they will use who for both the subject and object of a sentence. This is incorrect, but many native English readers wouldn’t even notice the error.

If you’re speaking with someone conversationally in English, you may spot them using who rather than whom.

While this is fine when you’re speaking, it’s always best to use the correct form in writing, especially in a professional setting.

examples of when not to break the rules

Rather than avoiding whom, some English speakers use it instead of who to sound sophisticated or formal. This is something to avoid, especially in legal and academic writing where this mistake will be obvious. Often, using whom in error to sound intelligent backfires and makes you sound less educated.

Using ProWritingAid’s grammar check helps you identify where you get things wrong. The English language is hugely complicated so ProWritingAid can give you peace of mind that your writing is error free.

demo of ProWritingAid's grammar checker

Who/Whom vs. Which/That

Just when you thought you’ve got it, another word comes along to confuse you! Which and that can be used as relative pronouns, too.

Which pronoun do I need?

  • Which: Only used for things, not people
  • Who/Whom: Only used for people
  • That: Used for objects but can also be used when you’re talking about a class or type of person, such as a team.

Who or whom is preferred when talking about people.

flow chart: when to use who, whom, which or that

Example sentences:

  • Correct: Cupboards that are empty should be prioritized.
  • Incorrect: Cupboards who are empty should be prioritized.

Tip: Who and whom only refer to people, not objects.

  • Correct: The boy who was lost.
  • Incorrect: The boy that was lost.

Tip: While that can refer to people, who or whom is preferred.


Who vs. Whom Quiz Questions and Answers

cover image for the quiz below: who vs whom quiz questions

For each of the questions, decide if A or B is correct. See how well you did by checking the answers below.

[Download a PDF version of this quiz you can use to test yourself or your students.](https://marketing.prowritingaid.com/Who-Vs-Whom Quiz.pdf)

Question 1:

  • A: From whom has the invitation been sent?
  • B: From who has the invitation been sent?

Question 2:

  • A: This is the man who I met at the party.
  • B: This is the man whom I met at the party.

Question 3:

  • A: Whom do I need to ask for my reference?
  • B: Who do I need to ask for my reference?

Question 4:

  • A: I like people whom are kind.
  • B: I like people who are kind.

Question 5:

  • A: From who are we running?
  • B: From whom are we running?

Question 6:

  • A: Whom forgot to take the trash out?
  • B: Who forgot to take the trash out?

Question 7:

  • A: To whom should I send this letter?
  • B: To who should I send this letter?

Question 8:

  • A: The teacher who taught Spanish.
  • B: The teacher whom taught Spanish.

Question 9:

  • A: Whom should I invite to my birthday?
  • B: Who should I invite to my birthday?

Question 10:

  • A: Who is in charge?
  • B: Whom is in charge?

Answers

See how you did with the quiz! The correct answers are in bold. Did any of these trick you? Can you explain how you know whether to use who or whom?

Question 1:

  • A: From whom has the invitation been sent?
  • B: From who has the invitation been sent?

Question 2:

  • A: This is the man who I met at the party.
  • B: This is the man whom I met at the party.

Question 3:

  • A: Whom do I need to ask for my reference?
  • B: Who do I need to ask for my reference?

Question 4:

  • A: I like people whom are kind.
  • B: I like people who are kind.

Question 5:

  • A: From who are we running?
  • B: From whom are we running?

Question 6:

  • A: Whom forgot to take the trash out?
  • B: Who forgot to take the trash out?

Question 7:

  • A: To whom should I send this letter?
  • B: To who should I send this letter?

Question 8:

  • A: The teacher who taught Spanish.
  • B: The teacher whom taught Spanish.

Question 9:

  • A: Whom should I invite to my birthday?
  • B: Who should I invite to my birthday?

Question 10:

  • A: Who is in charge?
  • B: Whom is in charge?

who vs whom answer chart

Why Is Who vs. Whom Important?

They say rules are made to be broken, and that’s very true for the English language. For many people, it simply won’t matter whether you use who or whom in the correct way.

However, for professional purposes, such as reports, job applications, and formal communications, using the wrong one can make you look sloppy. If you’re a professional writer, using who and whom correctly is essential.


Remembering grammar rules as you write can feel impossible—there are so many! With ProWritingAid, all of the information you need is at your fingertips.

a confused suggestion with more information in prowritingaid

Our in-tool suggestions, articles, videos, and quizzes help you to choose the right word every time. You’ll learn as you edit, making you a stronger writer. You can also check out our grammar guide for help with other grammar rules if you get stuck.


Where do grammar rules fit into the editing process? Find out in our FREE editing guide:

20 Editing Tips From Professional Writers

20 Editing Tips From Professional Writers

Whether you are writing a novel, essay, article, or email, good writing is an essential part of communicating your ideas.

This guide contains the 20 most important writing tips and techniques from a wide range of professional writers.

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