A few weeks ago, I was listening to an episode of my very favorite podcast, A Way With Words. (Seriously, if you’re a word nerd, you need to check this out.) A woman called in to the show to share what I think is the best mnemonic device for remembering whether to use who or whom in a sentence. To get in the right spirit, you have to imagine sitting around a campfire and chanting a little chant that goes:
Him-ah, Whom-ah . . . He-who!
(I’ll pause here so you can practice the chant. Go ahead. Unless you’re on the bus or in the office, no one is going to hear you. And even if you’re in public, so what?)
What this chant is explaining is that if the who or whom in a sentence can refer to the word him, then you should use whom. Thus “Him-ha, Whom-ah.”
Example: Whom did you invite to the Saturnalia party? I invited him.
The chant also explains that if the who or whom in a sentence can refer to the word he, then you should use who. Thus “He-who.”
Example: Who made these Saturnalia presents? He made them.
Let’s chant it one more time for good measure. . . . Him-ah, Whom-ah . . . He-who! (Feels great, doesn’t it?)
grammatical awesomeness behind who vs. whom
The grammatical rules behind this chant deal with subjects and objects.
Who is a subject, which is a person or a thing that is doing the action of a sentence.
Let’s look again at our who example: Who made these Saturnalia presents?
Here, who is the subject of the sentence because it refers to the person who did the action of making the presents.
However, whom is an object, which is the person or thing that is having the action of the sentence done to them.
Let’s look again at our whom example: Whom did you invite to the Saturnalia party?
Here, whom is the object because it refers to the person who is receiving the action of being invited to the party.
Test your who vs. whom skills with a little quiz. The answers are at the bottom.
- _______ made this huge mess?
- _______ should we blame for this stench?
- They hired _______ to clean up this rubbish?
- ______ said he likes the smell?
Answers: 1. who 2. whom 3. whom 4. who
Erin Servais is the founder of Dot and Dash, LLC, an author-services company focusing on women writers and offering a range of editing, coaching, and social media packages.
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7 thoughts on “who vs. whom”
I have been trying to learn the difference between WHO and WHOM for years…
..AND I FINALLY GET IT!! 😀
That chant is brilliant. Thank you Erin!
It is a great chant. I wish I had come up with it. And, trust me, it works. I can’t tell you how many times since I learned it that I have said it in my head while I was editing. It’s a lot quicker than breaking down sentence structure. . . .
And thanks for the nice comment!
I learned decades ago to use the him/whom mnemonic device. If “him” works in the sentence, then use “whom” — they both end in M. But it doesn’t always work, especially in declarative sentences or more complex constructions. (Notice that all your examples are questions?) Consider: I will vote for whoever will lower my taxes. I could never figure out how the mnemonic would work in that sentence; you just have to know that “whoever” is correct because it’s the subject of the verb “will lower.”
Although I know the difference between “who” and “whom,” I wish the distinction would just go away. I don’t know how it aids communication to use “whom” instead of “who” in the sentence “Whom would you ask?” If I never heard the word “whom” again, I’d be just fine.
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Errr … I think … now I can’t be 100% sure, but, I think it WORKED! Fantastic mnemonic!
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