Recently, I have been receiving requests from my children, ranging from P3 to P6, to explain how "Who", "Whom" and "Whose", are different. These are actually known as relative pronouns (along with "which", "where" and "that") and they introduce relative clauses (I like to think of them as "relatives" like cousins who know you well!) which tell us more about a subject or an object. These relative pronouns are most often tested in the grammar MCQ section and in sentence synthesis. What information does each of these relative pronouns give?
"Who" and "Whom" are similar in function and hence trickier to differentiate while "whose" actually has a rather different function altogether.
Who & Whom
For those of you who are still confused about when to use "who" and "whom", a quick recapitulation here. "Who" is used with the subject (doer of an action or the described) while "whom" is used with the object (receiver of an action). The subject and the verb must agree with each other.
If we are giving extra information about the subject (doer), we use "who", If we are giving extra information about an object (receiver), we will use "whom". Here is another example to check your understanding.
Peter _________ ate five hamburgers was hungry. (Is Peter doing the action or receiving it?)
Peter _________ I gave five hamburgers to was hungry. (Is Peter doing the action or receiving it?)
In the first example, Peter is the doer of the action (ate five hamburgers) and hence, we used "who". In the second example, Peter is the receiver of the action (I gave five hamburgers to Peter) and hence, we used "whom". To have a clearer understanding, you may wish to take a look at our "who" vs "whom" post here.
Sentence Synthesis - who & whom
With this knowledge, how should we answer questions on "who" and "whom"? I am going to ask Compo Cop and Comprehension Crook to help us explain this as the scenario between a police and a crook should be easy to remember (:
Since we understand that "who" is used with the subject of a sentence, we should
1. identify the subject (doer of an action / described).
2. make sure a verb/action (kicked, is a...) follows "who" since "who" gives details about the subject.
Take note that "who" can be used as long as we have a subject. In the example, "Paul is a boy.", "Paul" is the subject (described) while "the boy" which is a complement (extra information on Paul connected by "is") can be connected by "who" to form "Paul who is a boy...". Another example is seen below:
Both sentences above show how "who" is used to give extra details about the subject i.e. the policeman in the sentences. If both sentences are to be put together in a sentence synthesis question, the result will be such:
In this particular example, whether the "who" is used to describe the policeman or provide the action of the policeman are both acceptable. In situations where the sequence of event is important, you may need to consider which is the sentence that the relative clause should describe as the meanings may be different.
The paramedics arrived at the scene swiftly. They saved many lives.
A. The paramedics who arrived at the scene swiftly saved many lives.
B. The paramedics who saved many lives arrived at the scene swiftly.
The original statements are talking about how the paramedics had arrived at the scene swiftly and saved many of the lives at the scene. "B" can sound like the paramedics saved many other lives that were not at the scene and they just arrived at the scene swiftly. Hence, A will actually be more accurate.
"Whom" is used to describe the object (receiver of action). Hence,
1. Look for the sentence that shows an action between two nouns.
2. Make sure the subject (doer of the action) follows after "whom"
This sentence will show the subject (doer) and object (receiver) of the action. Since "whom" is used to describe the object (receiver), the object (receiver) will be used just before "whom" followed by the Subject (doer) and the action. Subsequently, combining with the other sentence should not be an issue.
Bear in mind that if a verb appears after "whom", most likely you are not doing it right. It should be the subject (doer of the action) after "whom" instead!
The function of "who" and "whom" are vastly different from "whose".
"Whose" is used to show possession (the belongings). Grammar Grandma and her beautiful jade necklace will make a perfect example.
1. look for clues like apostrophe s ('s) and possessive pronouns (his, her, my) that shows that something belongs to a person e.g. Mary's lamb, Grandfather's watch, their shoes, his breakfast.
2. Make sure the possession (belongings; whether it is a thing, an animal or a person etc.) follow after "whose".
This table should summarise nicely the differences among the three relative pronouns during synthesis:
One last note: for relative clauses, there should be either two commas placed before and after the clause or no comma at all!
Grandma ,whose jade necklace was lost, had been looking for it. (Right!)
Grandma whose jade necklace was lost, had been looking for it. (Wrong! Missing a comma!)
As such, I always advise my children to leave out commas as they tend to forget the other one. I hope the children will be clear about the different ways to use these three relative pronouns now! Remember, practice is required for what we learnt to stick in our minds so do practise from time to time.
An update on our 2016 schedule: We have officially released it yesterday and some classes are filling up fast! Do click here to view the schedule and drop us your registration if you like how I have been presenting English to you and feel that I can help your child. To help you see a little bit more what we do in class, here is a fun project we have done up with our 2016 schedule announcement! Enjoy!