Difference between Who and Whom in Relative Clauses

The difference between who and whom in relative clauses often causes difficulties for learners of English.

These are how they differ.

Who vs Whom

Who is the "subject of a verb"

Being the "subject of a verb" means that the pronoun ('who' in this case) is performing the action of the verb in the sentence.

These are examples of sentences where "who" is the subject of a verb:

  • Who is calling me? (Who is performing the action of calling)

  • She is the one who won the race. (Who is performing the action of winning)

  • Who will cook dinner tonight? (Who will perform the action of cooking)

  • The dog who barks loudly belongs to my neighbor. (Who is performing the action of barking)

  • Tell me who said that. (Who performed the action of saying)

Whom is the "object"

"Whom" is used as an object in a sentence. It refers to the person or people who receive the action of the verb.

Here are five examples of sentences where "whom" is an object:

  • To whom did you give the book? (Whom is receiving the action of giving)

  • The man whom she loves is her husband. (Whom is the object of the verb "loves")

  • Whom did you see at the party last night? (Whom is the object of the verb "see")

  • The students, whom the teacher scolded, were late to class. (Whom are being scolded by the teacher)

  • I don't know whom to give the gift to. (Whom is the recipient of the gift)

How to Spot the Difference

To determine whether to use who or whom, you can follow this rule: If the question or sentence can be responded to with a subject pronoun (i.e. he, she, it, or they), use who.

Who is going to the party?

  • He is going to the party

I don't know who will win the race.

  • She will win the race

If the question can be answered with an objective pronoun (like him, her, or them) or the statement replaced by one of these, use whom.

Whom did you invite to the party?

  • I invited him/her/them

To whom did you give the gift?

  • I gave it to him/her/them

Several people came to the party, one of whom was a politician

  • One of them was a politician 

Test yourself in this Who vs Whom Quiz >>

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