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Whom

The word “who” has a more sophisticated looking sibling, “whom”. While they are used in the same way and look almost identical, one cannot replace the other. Whom is not the grown-up version of who, ready to be used when you want to speak English like an adult. They both refer to a specific set of answers that could be given to the questions they are used in.

If you can answer a question with he, she, or they, use who. If your options are him, her, or them, use whom. You can remember this rule by the “-m” in him and them: if the response could end in “-m”, use whom instead of who.

You might have to rearrange your sentence a little to find which of the two applies:

  • Who/Whom knows this? → He knows this. Him knows this.

  • Who/Whom owns this car? → She owns this car. Her owns this car.

  • Who/Whom can I ask? → I can ask he. I can ask him.

  • Who/Whom does this car belong to? → This car belongs to she. This car belongs to her.

The grammatically correct response tells us which word to use when phrasing the question.

When in doubt, it is fair and safe to avoid whom. It is common for people to only use who in practice, as whom sounds very formal. Sticking to who will usually not sound out of place, while using whom incorrectly will. Overusing whom, particularly when using it incorrectly, can seem desperate to appear sophisticated.

In formal settings, using whom according to the rule laid out here is appropriate. In informal settings, or when unsure if whom applies, sticking to who is perfectly acceptable.

All lessons in this course

1

An actual video

Two words can look like translations of each other even if they aren’t. The word “actual” is our first venture into this category of false friends.

2

Making a photo

Even if you translate each individual word in a sentence correctly, the resulting translation can still be off.

3

What for a picture

Not every word in a sentence needs to appear in its translation. Languages don’t map to each other one-to-one.

4

Or?

You can spot Germans by the fact that they use “or” to ask questions. Unfortunately, the word doesn’t work that way in English.

5

Hello together

This mistranslation gave this course its name. “Together” refers to doing something with others. Here’s how to greet a group of people instead.

6

Handy

What do you call a phone you can hold in your hand? Well, it’s not this. If you call it a handy, you’re in for some awkward looks.

7

Becoming a car

“Bekommen” and “to become” are another pair of false friends. If you want something, make sure you’re not accidentally turning yourself into that thing.

8

Less vs fewer

Is it “less mistakes” or “fewer mistakes”? They both seem to say that something is not as much as it was before, but only one is grammatically correct.

9

Eventually

False friends are everywhere. Eventually is very similar to the German “eventuell”, but it means something completely different.

Whom

Why isn’t it “Whom let the dogs out”? The extra letter does not turn a regular “who” into a fancy version of itself.

11

Apostrophes

When coming from a language that doesn’t normally use them, where to put apostrophes can seem confusing.

12

I vs me

Was an event organized by “Nina and I” or “Nina and me”? To find which one applies, take the other person out of the sentence for a second.

13

Good vs well

You’re doing well, Superman is doing good. This lesson looks at the rules behind which of these two is correct in a given situation.

14

Looking forward

When you’re excited about something, tell others what that thing is. On its own, you’re only saying half an expression otherwise.

15

Gender-neutral pronouns

When you don’t know someone’s preferred pronouns, you can use they/them even when speaking about an individual person and not a group.

16

Please

We have been taught to always say please and thank you. Whether they are right for a situation depends on the context.

17

Each other

Some actions happen to multiple people at once, like running into someone. In these situations, we need to use reciprocal pronouns.

18

Do

Other languages don’t always use the auxillary “do” as much as the English language does, so it’s often lost in translation.