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 English Grammar for ESL learners 


The difference between 'who' and 'whom'.

There is often confusion about the use of who and whom.
Who and whom are pronouns.
  • Who is a subject pronoun, in the same way as 'he/she/they'.
  • Whom is an object pronoun, in the same way as 'him/her/them'.
In the sentence "John loves Julie." :
  • John is the subject of the verb 'love'
  • Julie is the object of John's affection.
Simple rule:
If you can substitute 'he/they', use 'who'.
If you can substitute 'him/them', use 'whom'.

Subject Verb Object
Tom loves Julie.
Who loves Julie?
Tom loves whom?

  • Who

    We use 'who' when it is the subject of a verb, that is, when it refers to the person who
    takes an action.

    • Julie played tennis. Julie is the subject of the verb 'to play'.

    • To find out the name of the player, we ask a question using 'who'.
      Who played tennis? Julie played tennis.

    • Who can also be used as the subject of a non-identifying clause:
      • There's Mr. Jones who bought the house next door.
  • Whom

    We can use 'whom' as the object of a verb, but it is very formal and not often used in spoken English.

    • Formal English: Whom did you see?
    • Everyday English: Who did you see?

  • In formal English, whom is used directly after a preposition:

    • With whom did you play? To whom do you wish to speak?

  • In informal conversational English, it is more usual to ask :

    • Who did you play with?  / Who do you want to speak to?

  • Whom is always used when it is preceded by quantifiers such as all of, both of, few of, many of, several of, etc. For example:

    • He addressed the spectators, most of whom remained seated.

see also: who-whose-whom-that-which-where

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