The Farlex Grammar Book > English Spelling and Pronunciation > Common Mistakes and Commonly Confused Words > who vs. whom
who vs. whom
What is the difference between who and whom?
This pair of interrogative pronouns is notoriously difficult for learners and native speakers alike.
Traditionally, who is only used when functioning as the subject of a verb’s action, while whom is used when it functions as the object of a verb or preposition. For example:
- “It doesn’t matter who completes the task, so long as it is finished in time!” (Who is the subject of the verb complete.)
- “Who could have done such a thing?” (Who is the subject of the verb done.)
- “Tell me, whom do you love most in the world?” (Whom is the object of the verb love.)
- “This is Mr. Carter, whom I worked for during college.” (Whom is the object of the preposition for.)
This distinction carries over to the related pronouns whoever and whomever, as well:
- “Whoever can finish the proposal in time will get the contract.” (Whoever is the subject of the verb finish.)
- “You may dance with whomever you like; it doesn’t matter to me.” (Whomever is the object of the preposition with.)
While it can be trickier to determine whether who/whoever or whom/whomever is functioning as the subject or object of a verb, it’s much simpler when dealing with prepositions. Prepositions can only ever be associated with a grammatical objects to form a prepositional phrase, so they should only ever take whom or whomever.
In modern English, however, who (and, by extension, whoever) is used almost exclusively, even as the object of a preposition (especially when the two appear in different parts of a clause). Whom (and whomever) now tends to be reserved for more formal English, and it can even sound stuffy or old fashioned in conversational English. Still, it’s important to know the difference between the two, and we should strive to use them correctly, especially in formal, professional, or academic speech and writing.
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