John Larrysson's Column: Who vs. Whom

When does one use whom instead of who? The difference between who and whom in English is because of grammatical cases. Cases are the difference between I and me. The word (pronoun) I being the subject of a sentence does the action (verb) to the object of the sentence 1. The word me is the object of the sentence. Like the word me, whom is also the object of the sentence; the word who is the subject of the sentence. 

If you already know when to use I and me, then who and whom should be easy to understand. If you can replace the word with I, use who. If you can replace it with me use whom. In this example, I is the subject and Tom is the object. 

I saw whom? I saw Tom.

Who saw Tom? I saw Tom. 

[audio 1]

Other common case words used only for the subject of a sentence are the pronouns: she, he, we, they.... (For you, please read The Four Words for You article) These pronouns may be substituted for I in the sentence: I saw Tom. In the same way who can be substituted as well.

Next, look at the object of the sentence, Tom. Other common case words used only for the object of a sentence are the pronouns: her, him, us, them....  These may be substituted for Tom in the sentence: I saw Tom. As before, the word whom can be substituted for Tom, but not for I. Whom is always the object of the sentence 2.

[audio 2]

Normally the preposition to is only used in front of the object of a sentence. As in: 

He gave it to me.    


He gave it to whom? 

often ordered as 

To whom did he give it? 

Once the subject and object are labeled, co-ordinating the word order is slightly less strict. In fact the word whom is often found closer to the front of a sentence. An easy grammatical tip is always use to whom, the combination to who is defiantly wrong.  

[audio 3]


1. Of course, as long as the sentence uses a transitive verb, such as: Tom wrote a story. An intransitive sentence has no object, such as: Tom smiled.

2. Except in very strange examples, such as the footnoted sentence in the text above, where whom is actually the subject. This only happens here because grammar is being discussed; the word whom is being treated as a noun, not the grammatical word whom

by John Larrysson [email protected]

A native English speaker who has been teaching practical English in Hong Kong for over two decades.


NOTE: Starting in 2016, this column has been published once every two weeks, on every other Tuesday.

General Enquiry: We welcome enquiries and feedback. Please contact us through [email protected]