Who and Whom: A Different Slant
For many people, deciding whether to use who or whom may be the most difficult of all the problems with pronouns. Do you say, “The man who I called has already placed an order” or “The man whom I called has already placed an order”? How can you make your mind up between “The student who is early will get the best seat” and “The student whom is early will get the best seat”?
If you have trouble deciding whether to use who or whom (or whoever or whomever), try the following method. It substitutes he and him for who and whom and provides a mnemonic for remembering when you should use which pronoun.
The use of whom is gradually decreasing in casual speaking, although many people are still careful about its use. Generally, its use — its correct use — is still important in writing.
First, remember to look only at the clause (a set of words with a subject and its verb) associated with who or whom. Some sentences have only one clause, and that makes finding the right word easy. Often, though, a sentence has more than one clause (an independent clause and one or more dependent clauses).
Next, scramble the words of the clause (if you have to) so that the words form a statement, not a question.
Now, substitute either he or him for who or whom. This will tell you whether to use who or whom. Use the mnemonic he + who, hiM = whoM (the final m helps you remember the association). If your sentence is about females only, pretend they're males for the sake of your mnemonic.
Be on the lookout for predicate nominatives. After you scramble the words, if you have a linking verb rather than an action verb, use he (who) instead of him (whom).
Ready to put all this to a test? Try this sentence:
(Who, Whom) telephoned late last night?
Since the sentence has only one clause, all you need to do is see if it's necessary to scramble the words to make a statement. In this sentence, no scrambling is necessary. You can substitute he and have a perfectly good sentence: He telephoned late last night. Since you substituted he instead of him (remember that he + who), you know to use who in the original question.
Now, try this example:
(Who, Whom) were you telephoning late at night?
This sentence also has only one clause that you have to deal with. Scramble the words to make a statement; then substitute he or him, and you have the statement “You were telephoning him late at night.” Since you used him in the new sentence, you know to use whom in the original question.
Now for a trickier example:
Eugene worried about (who, whom) Ike would be teamed with in the competition.
As you can tell, this sentence has two clauses (you could tell that, couldn't you?). Remember that you're only concerned with the clause that contains the who/whom question. In this case, take the words after about, scramble them to make a statement, substitute he or him, and you have “Ike would be teamed with him in the competition.” Since you used him, you would know that the original sentence would use whom (remember the mnemonic him = whom). So the original sentence would read this way:
Eugene worried about whom Ike would be teamed with in the competition.
Try the interactive quizzes on who and whom at these Web sites:
Here's another example that you have to stop and think about:
Was that (who, whom) you thought it was?
When you look only at the clause the who/whom is concerned with and you substitute he/him, you have “it was he/him.” A light bulb goes off in your head because you recognize that was as being a linking verb. That tells you to use he (the predicate nominative).
An independent clause is a set of words with a subject and its verb that expresses a complete thought; it could stand alone as a sentence. A dependent clause — while having a subject and verb — makes no sense by itself; it can't stand alone as a sentence.