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
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.Read full lesson
Making a photo
Even if you translate each individual word in a sentence correctly, the resulting translation can still be off.Read full lesson
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.Read full lesson
You can spot Germans by the fact that they use “or” to ask questions. Unfortunately, the word doesn’t work that way in English.Read full lesson
This mistranslation gave this course its name. “Together” refers to doing something with others. Here’s how to greet a group of people instead.Read full lesson
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.Read full lesson
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.Read full lesson
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.Read full lesson
False friends are everywhere. Eventually is very similar to the German “eventuell”, but it means something completely different.Read full lesson
Why isn’t it “Whom let the dogs out”? The extra letter does not turn a regular “who” into a fancy version of itself.Read full lesson
When coming from a language that doesn’t normally use them, where to put apostrophes can seem confusing.Read full lesson
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.Read full lesson
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.Read full lesson
When you’re excited about something, tell others what that thing is. On its own, you’re only saying half an expression otherwise.Read full lesson
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.Read full lesson
We have been taught to always say please and thank you. Whether they are right for a situation depends on the context.Read full lesson
Some actions happen to multiple people at once, like running into someone. In these situations, we need to use reciprocal pronouns.Read full lesson
Other languages don’t always use the auxillary “do” as much as the English language does, so it’s often lost in translation.Read full lesson