Who and whom are commonly confused. In fact, many native English speakers don’t know the difference between them. You will often see the words used interchangeably in error.
Both who and whom are interrogative pronouns. They are used to ask questions and replace a noun. Choosing which one you need depends on whether you are referring to the subject or the object of the sentence.
- Subject: The person who is completing the action in the sentence. You need to use the pronoun who.
- Object: The person receiving the action of the verb. Use the pronoun whom.
Still unsure which one to use? Think about whether it matches with he/she or him/her.
He/She = Who
If the answer has he/she, use the pronoun who in the question:
- Who ate my snack?
- She ate my snack.
Him/Her = Whom
If the answer has him/her, use the pronoun whom in the question.
- To whom is this package being sent?
- The package is being sent to him.
When Should I Use Who?
Use who when you are talking directly about the person who is doing something. Like the pronouns I, he, and she, who is the subject of the sentence. This is the person performing the action.
- Who closed the door? (who = subject, door = object)
- She’s the one who really matters to me. (she, who = subject, me = object)
When Should I Use Whom?
Use whom when the person is the object of the sentence. Like the pronouns me, him, and her, whom is an object pronoun. We often use it when the person is unknown.
- To whom should this letter be addressed? (letter = subject, whom = object)
- This scarf has been in Lost Property so long, it’s clear we’ll never figure out to whom it belongs. (scarf = subject, whom = object)
Preposition + Whom
You may have seen To whom it may concern written as a letter opening. 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 one of.
- 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.
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. Whilst this is not correct, many native English readers would not notice the error.
Other English speakers use whom 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.