The late Jane Straus, author of The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation, helps us crack the code of who vs. whom.
Jane promises, “It is easier than you might imagine, which will give you the confidence that you can master this distinction. I will also give you a trick for learning when to use whoever and whomever.”
The following are Jane’s Rules, meaning that they are informal but foolproof.
When to Use Who
RULE: Use who when you could replace it with he.
EXAMPLE: Who/whom is standing by the gate?
He is standing by the gate. So who is correct.
EXAMPLE: Gail wished she knew who/whom won.
Gail wished is a subject and verb pair (also called a clause). She knew is another subject and verb pair (clause). Who/whom won, the third clause, is the one we care about here. We would say he won so who is correct.
When to Use Whom
RULE: Use whom when you could replace it with him.
EXAMPLE: To who/whom am I speaking?
Let’s turn the question into a sentence to make it easier: I am speaking to who/whom. We would say I am speaking to him. Therefore, whom is correct.
EXAMPLE: Hank wanted to know on who/whom the prank was pulled.
Hank wanted to know is a clause. That leaves on who/whom the prank was pulled. Again, let’s turn the question into a sentence: The prank was pulled on who/whom. We would say the prank was pulled on him. Therefore, whom is correct.
When to Use Whoever and Whomever
Wouldn’t it be nice to know when to use whoever and whomever with confidence? Once again, I’ll give you one of Jane’s Rules:
RULE: Use ever on the end of who or whom when who or whom fits into both clauses.
EXAMPLE: Nancy is a gymnast and Kelly plays soccer.
Nancy is a gymnast is the first clause and Kelly plays soccer is the second clause. Each clause contains a subject and a verb pair.
Now, back to whoever and whomever. Remember, Jane’s Rule says to use ever on the end of who or whom when who or whom fits into both clauses.
EXAMPLE: Give it to ________ asks for it first.
We could say Give it to him. But we could also say He asks for it first. In other words, who/whom fits into both clauses. That tells us to use ever on the end. Now, is the correct answer whoever or whomever ?
RULE: When you have a he/him combination, use whoever. When you have a him/him combination, use whomever.
Don’t laugh yet; this works! In the example above, we had a he/him combination. So the answer is Give it to whoever asks for it first.
EXAMPLE: We will hire _________ you recommend.
We could say We will hire him. But we could also say You recommend him. Again, who/whom fits into both clauses. That tells us to use ever. This time we have a him/him combination. So the answer is We will hire whomever you recommend.
Look in Jane’s book for more examples and exercises. You will become proficient quickly. Who would have thought? Or is that whom?
Reprinted by permission of the late Jane Straus, author of the bestselling The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation, from her free Grammarbook.com e-newsletters and blogs.
We love The Blue Book so much that we’ve been carrying it for years in the WriteShop store. We also include it in the WriteShop Starter Bundle. It’s a combination reference book and workbook, oh so easy to use, and handy for home or office. Jane’s examples are short, simple, and practical. We know you’ll love it too!
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