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Who and Whom

Which to use: Who or Whom?

The use of 'who and whom', both pronouns replacing the noun in a sentence, is very often incorrect. In most cases the distinction is very clear: 'who' is applied to the subject in the sentence and 'whom' is applied to the object in a sentence. Thus:

He is someone who is important and to whom I owe a great debt.

However, the matter of whether to apply 'who and whom' in all sentences is a little more complicated than that, as you might expect, especially when following prepositions in sentences. Indeed, the usage might even be reversed in certain cases, though 'whom' would never be used as the subject of a verb. Hence:

Whom was running down the road?

Would never be correct grammatical usage, though you may see it used frequently, even in the so-called ‘quality press'. Indeed, the use of 'whom' has greatly declined in recent years, especially in the case of US English.

When writing an academic essay, however, it is necessary to adhere to the strictest grammatical rules, as you may lose vital marks if you fail to submit work that is grammatically beyond reproach.

It is very easy to test whether you have used 'who and whom' correctly. Simply substitute other personal pronouns in place of 'who or whom', replacing 'who' with he, she or they to see if it sounds correct and replacing 'whom' with him or her to see if it sounds correct.

The correct usage of 'who and whom' is important but if you are unsure, even after using this check, then it might be worth thinking about recasting your sentence, as the personal pronouns given above do offer a reasonable alternative in most cases.

In order to use ‘who and whom' correctly, you need to identify the subject and object in the sentence structure and use 'who' as the subject and 'whom' as the object, using the method above to ensure you are correct and taking account of the effect of prepositions.

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