Editing Pet Peeves #3: Who and Whom

Editing Pet Peeves #3: Who and Whom

Good morning, Rebels, and welcome back to my life. All right, another editing/grammar/writing post, here we go!

Who and whom.

Yeah. Whom. That freaky little alternate version of “Who” with the extra “m” at the end. What the hell is up with that freak of nature?

First, a disclaimer: “Whom” doesn’t actually MEAN anything different than “Who.” It’s not like “lie,” “lay,” and “laid,” which have the same idea but actually MEAN different things. And in today’s day and age, you could go through your entire life and NEVER say “Whom,” and 99.9% of people would never know the difference.

HOWEVER, there is an advantage to using “Whom,” and that’s to make yourself sound like a hipster grammarian Nazi. “What’s the advantage to that?” you ask? Well, the only people who want that, already know the answer to that question.

Even when something is virtually never used, it just makes some people FEEL good knowing how they’re SUPPOSED to be used. And if you’re the kind of person who likes getting into arguments with people on the internet about spelling and grammar—and let’s face it, if you’re a Rebel, you probably are—it’s helpful to have the authority of speaking about something you actually know about.

ALSO, if someone seems to be defeating you in an argument, you can always go with the ad hominem attack and say, “I don’t know why I’m even debating with someone who doesn’t know the difference between WHO and WHOM.” And then run away airhumping.

Okay, so the difference between “Who” and “Whom” gets into the Subject and Object of a sentence. Subject and Object is another topic people get really confused about, but simply put: the subject of a sentence is the noun that’s DOING something. The object of a sentence is the noun that something’s being done TO.

The way I always remember this is by imagining a school principal giving me a call. “Mr. Robinson, we need to speak on the SUBJECT of your daughter.”

Right away, I know my daughter has DONE something. The subject of the sentence is the one who’s DOING something.

You can also remember “Object” by thinking of being “Objectified.” When we objectify someone, whether it be objectifying women or artists or celebrities, we’re doing something TO them.

In summary, subjects DO actions, objects RECEIVE actions.

How does this relate to “Who” and “Whom?” Well, these are both pronouns, which are words that sort of cover up proper nouns. If you’re covering up the SUBJECT of a sentence, you use WHO. If you’re covering up the OBJECT of a sentence, you use WHOM.

“Garrett punched a mime.”

That’s not an example, that’s just a statement of fact.

Here’s an example: Garrett punched a grizzly bear. Garrett is the subject, because he’s the brave man who punched a bear. The grizzly bear is the object, because it was the unimpressive creature being punched.

So, replacing them one at a time, we could replace the subject and say, “Who punched a grizzly bear?” Or we could replace the object and say, “Garrett punched whom?” Or replace them both and say “Who punched whom?” if you’re really in mystery about the punching that just occurred.

Okay, so that’s the explanation of the rules behind it, but there’s a small chance you’re probably still not 100% on when to use who and when to use whom. Fortunately there’s an EVEN EASIER way to remember both of them. The reason I didn’t just give it to you up front is that I wanted you to have some idea of the actual RULES of grammar that apply here. The more understanding the better, right?

When you’re writing a sentence that has a “Who/Whom” in it, try replacing the world with “He” or “Him.” Which one is appropriate? If you’d use “He,” use “Who.” If you’d use “Him,” use “Whom.”

The thing is, we all use “He” and “Him” so often that we know which one to use on an instinctual level, and this is why they’re such great tools to determine whether we should use “Who” and “Whom.” It can still be hard to remember in casual conversation, but again—99.9% of the people you’ll ever talk to in your life won’t care either way. But when you’re writing, if you want to be all proper-like, you can do the he/him who/whom swap to easily find out which one to use.

By the way, sorry to anyone who’s offended by the gender specificity—I use “he” and “him” because they’re structurally very similar to “who” and “whom,” not because I support the patriarchy. “She” and “her” are perfectly usable, but I find them harder to remember because of their conjunctive difference.

Hope this cleared things up for you, Rebels! If you’re more confused than when I started, I apologize. I’ll see you soon. Byyye.

Garrett Robinson

Over 100,000 readers have read and loved Garrett's books, like the fantasy hits Nightblade and Midrealm. He's also a film festival favorite with movies like Unsaid, and a tech guru who posts lots of helpful how-tos for writers and filmmakers over at garrettbrobinson.com.

Share This