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Primary English Tips | Grammar: The Mystery of "Who" vs "whom"

GrammarLily ChewComment
Such confusion.                          Source: heylittledoodles

Such confusion.                          Source: heylittledoodles

"Who" versus "Whom"!?

This is one of the most common mistakes that pupils make in the Grammar MCQ and even in sentence synthesis. Let's first understand it before we talk about how to remember it!

Understanding

Every sentence has a subject (Doer of the action) and an object (receiver of the action). 
For example, I kicked the boy. "I" is the subject while "the boy" is the object.

We use "who" and "whom" depending on whether we are referring to the subject or object.
who --> Doer of action (subject) 
whom --> Receiver of action (object) 

Application

This is the boy whom I kicked.

Here, the boy is the receiver of the kick (object) and hence "whom" is used.

The is the boy who kicked me.

Whereas here, the boy is the doer of the action, kick, (subject) and hence "who" is used.

Remembering:

A quick tip is for pupils to look at the word after the blank.

This is the boy _____ kicked me.
This is the boy _____ can/cannot dance.
This is the boy _____ does not like pizza.
*This is the boy _____ really does not like pizza. ("really" shows the extent that the boy does not like pizza. The action is still by the boy.)

If it is a verb (recognise a verb as an action word or any word that has past/present tense), most likely it is an action by "the boy" and the answer will be "who"

This is the boy _____ I kicked.

If it is any other word e.g. pronoun, most likely "the boy" is receiving the action, and hence the answer will be "whom".

Likewise in a question:

Whom did you kick? 
I am asking about the receiver of the action, hence the answer should be "whom" and not "who".

Who kicked you?
Now, I am asking about the doer of the action. "Who" will make sense now.

Some find this tip helpful: Answering the question with "him" or "he".
Whom did you kick? --> I kicked him
Who kicked you? --> He kicked me. 
If your answer is "him", most often than not "whom" is used.
If your answer is with "he", most likely "who" is used.

More examples:

  • Neither of _____________ is hungry.

Neither of they/them is hungry.
them  > receiver > whom

 

If it is a question, answer the question.

  • _________ can I look for at the party?

You can look for he/him.
him > receiver > whom
Whom
can I look for at the party?

  • _________ ate the last cupcake?

He/him ate the last cupcake.
he > doer > who

Conclusion:

  • "who" is used with the doer while "whom" is used with the receiver.
  • Look for clues after the blank to have an idea.
  • Fill in with he/him or they/them to know whether it is a doer or receiver.