To continue our series on who, whom, whoever, and whomever, today we bring you a Tom Stern classic from September 2013.
Consider the humble pronoun. It seems that fewer and fewer Americans know when to say “she” or “he” or “me” instead of “her,” “him,” or “I.”
It used to be that little Gloria would run home and tell her mother, “Me ’n’ Annie saw a walrus!” Whereupon her mom would say, “ ‘Annie and I,’ dear.” Now, alas, Gloria’s mother thinks “me ’n’ Annie” is just fine.
So why is it that so many pronoun-challenged Americans are infatuated with whom? It’s a word that’s become exotic and mysterious, and people say it when they want to sound authoritative, because even if they’re misusing it, chances are their listeners won’t know.
Let’s get technical. The pronoun who is always subjective. Use who wherever you would use the subjective pronouns I, he, she, we, or they. It is correct to say Who wants to go? because we would say She wants to go or We want to go.
The pronoun whom is always an object. Use whom wherever you would use the objective pronouns me, him, her, us, or them. It is not correct to say Who did you choose? We would say Whom because you choose me or him or them.
A handy memory aid: who = he, whom = him.
Here is an all-too-common misuse of whom: He is a man whom I believe can do the job. The writer chose whom, thinking it was the object of believe. But look what happens when we rearrange the sentence: He is a man whom can do the job, I believe. Obviously, the proper word is who.
Compare that with He is a man who I admire. Because we would say I admire him, the sentence should read He is a man whom I admire.
The key to mastering whom comes down to knowing the difference between a subject and an object.
- Who/whom do you think will win the prize?
- Who/whom do you think you’ll vote for?
- She is someone who/whom I always counted on.
- She is someone who/whom I always said could be counted on.
- Who/whom are you going to believe?
POP QUIZ ANSWERS
- Who do you think will win the prize? (they will)
- Whom do you think you’ll vote for? (for him)
- She is someone whom I always counted on. (I counted on her)
- She is someone who I always said could be counted on. (she could be counted on)
- Whom are you going to believe? (you’re going to believe me)