Who vs. whom: A simple trick for determining when to use each word

Even experienced writers stumble over when to write (or say) who or whom. Good thing there’s an easy way to figure out the difference.

When to use who or whom seems to be universally confusing, even to experienced writers.

But before you click the back button, please forbear and be patient. This exploration of who versus whom will be painless. Trust me. There will be no discussion of direct and indirect objects. No figuring out the subject or the object in the sentence. And no one is diagramming anything.

In fact, there’s an easy way to tell when you should use who or whom in a sentence. If we had only been taught this in school.

Consider the following sentence:

Who do you consider the best composer?

Should it be who or whom?

Figure it out by turning the sentence around and replacing the who or whom with he or him. If he is wrong, so is who. If him is wrong, so is whom.

Do you consider him the best composer?
Do you consider he the best composer?

Since him is correct, use whom.

Whom do you consider the best composer?

Here’s another example:

It was Corelli, you’ll find, who composed that piece.

Turning the sentence around, which is correct?

He composed that piece.
Him composed that piece.

Since he is correct, use who in the sentence.

Thanks to Edith Schwager, author of Medical English Usage and Abusage, for this exercise. If only all complicated usage questions could be answered so easily. (I’m talking to you, serial comma.)

A version of this article first appeared on the author’s blog Impertinent Remarks. This article first ran on Ragan.com in July 2011.


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