Who vs. Whom | Examples, Definition & Quiz

Who and whom are both pronouns used to refer to people, but they have different grammatical functions.

  • Who is a pronoun that functions as the subject of a sentence or clause (i.e., the person performing the action).
  • Whom is a pronoun that functions as the object of a verb or preposition (i.e., the person that is acted upon).

Who and whom are used to refer to people and sometimes animals.

Examples: Who in a sentence Examples: Whom in a sentence
Who is at the door? To whom should I speak?
Who knows the answer? With whom do you want to work?
Jamil, who just started last week, is already excelling at his new job. Fia, whom I have known for years, is getting married next week.
Note
Whom is considered very formal and is often replaced with who in informal contexts. For example, “To whom should I speak?” would more typically be phrased “Who should I speak to?”

However, it’s important to use “who” and “whom” correctly in formal and academic writing.

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How to use who

Who is a pronoun that functions as the subject of a sentence, so it will always refer to the person performing the action.

Who can be used as an interrogative pronoun to ask a question.

Examples: Who as an interrogative pronoun
Who stole the painting?

Who do you think you are?

It can also be used as a relative pronoun (i.e., a pronoun that refers to a previously mentioned noun) to connect a main clause to a relative clause.

When a relative clause is restrictive (i.e., provides essential information about the noun), it is not separated from the main clause. If a relative clause is non-restrictive (i.e., does not provide essential information), it is set off from the main clause with commas.

Examples: Who as a relative pronoun
The man who works at the library is very unfriendly.

The scientist, who discovered the cure by accident, has been awarded various grants.

How to use whom

Whom is a pronoun that acts as the object of a verb or preposition (often the person that is acted upon).

Examples: Whom as the object of a verb or preposition
From whom did we receive these flowers?

There’s no one whom I love more.

It can also be used as a relative pronoun to connect a relative clause to a main clause.

If a relative clause provides essential information, it is not separated from the main clause. If it does not provide essential information, it is set off from the main clause using commas.

Examples: Whom as a relative pronoun
My grandmother is a kind woman whom I admire.

Martin, with whom I work, can speak nine languages.

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When to use who or whom

If you aren’t sure whether you’re using who or whom correctly, try determining what type of pronoun is needed.

  • Who is a subject pronoun like I, he, she, we, and they. It’s used to refer to the person performing an action.
  • Whom is an object pronoun, like me, him, her, us, and them. It’s used to refer to the person acted upon.

If you can answer a question using a subject pronoun, or if the sentence can be rearranged using the same verb and a subject pronoun, who is correct.

Examples: “Who” is a subject pronoun
Who did that?”

“The woman who did that …”

  • She did that.”
  • Her did that.”

However, if the sentence requires an object pronoun, you need whom.

Examples: “Whom” is an object pronoun
“To whom are you talking?”

“The man to whom you are talking …”

  • “I’m talking to him.”
  • “I’m talking to he.”
Note
If a sentence contains multiple verbs, it’s easy to get confused about which verb relates to the pronoun.

For example, in the sentence “The man who I thought was the villain turned out to be the hero,” who is correct because it is the subject of “was,” not the object of “thought.” Substituting another pronoun makes this clear; you would say “I thought he was,” not “I thought him was.”

To whom it may concern

To whom it may concern is a phrase used at the start of formal or professional correspondence when you don’t know the name of the person you’re addressing. “To who it may concern” is never correct.

Example: To whom it may concern in a sentence
To whom it may concern, I am writing to inquire about the advertised job vacancy.

Quiz: Whom vs. who

Test your knowledge of the difference between “whom” and “who” by using our practice quiz below. Fill in either “whom” or “who” in each sentence.

  1. _____ broke my laptop?
  2. With _____ do you want to speak?
  3. The woman _____ won the competition is very talented.
  4. The applicant, with _____ we were very impressed, had an excellent portfolio.
  5. The plumber, _____ you said was coming this morning, didn’t show up.
  6. To _____ it may concern, I am writing in reference to the upcoming event.
  1. Who broke my laptop?
    • “Who” can be used as an interrogative pronoun to ask a question. As a subject pronoun, it refers to the person performing the action.
  1. With whom do you want to speak?
    • “Whom” is a pronoun that acts as the object of a verb or preposition.
  1. The woman who won the competition is very talented.
    • “Who” can be used as a relative pronoun to connect a main clause to a relative clause. If the relative clause provides essential information, it is not separated from the main clause with commas.
  1. The applicant, with whom we were very impressed, had an excellent portfolio.
    • “Whom” can be used as a relative pronoun to connect a main clause to a relative clause. If the relative clause does not provide essential information, it is set off from the main clause with commas.
  1. The plumber, who you said was coming this morning, didn’t show up.
    • “Who” here serves as the subject of the verb “was” (note that it’s not the object of the verb “said,” or you would use “whom”). As it is part of a relative clause that does not provide essential information, it is set off from the main clause with commas.
  1. To whom it may concern, I am writing in reference to the upcoming event.
    • “To whom it may concern” is a phrase used at the start of formal correspondence when you don’t know the name of the person you’re addressing.

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Ryan, E. (2023, February 05). Who vs. Whom | Examples, Definition & Quiz. Scribbr. Retrieved February 6, 2023, from https://www.scribbr.com/commonly-confused-words/who-vs-whom/

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Eoghan Ryan

Eoghan has a lot of experience with theses and dissertations at bachelor's, MA, and PhD level. He has taught university English courses, helping students to improve their research and writing.