‘Who’ and ‘Whom’ are words that often get confused with one another, but what’s the difference? And what do they each mean? We’ll go over that in this article, plus teach you how to use both in a sentence.
In short, the difference is:
- ‘Who’ is a subject that performs the action in a sentence.
- ‘Whom’ functions more like an object, and it’s used when it’s receiving the action.
These words are often incorrectly used interchangeably. But they have slightly different usages, so avoid using them interchangeably.
How and When to Use ‘Who’ and ‘Whom’
The word ‘who’ is a pronoun, similar to ‘I’ or ‘he.’ ‘Who’ is usually the subject of a sentence, while ‘whom’ is the object.
- For example, if someone says, ‘Who did this?’ Someone might reply, ‘He did this.’
‘Whom’ can also be used after prepositions.
For example, when someone addresses another person they don’t know in a letter, you might see:
‘To Whom It May Concern.’
The Difference Between ‘Who’ and ‘Whom’
As you’ve seen, the difference between ‘who’ and ‘whom’ is slight.
‘Who’ is the subject performing the action in a sentence, while ‘whom’ is the object receiving the action.
For example, you might hear someone say:
‘We don’t know who has been vandalizing the church.’
In this case, the subject is the person ‘who’ has been vandalizing the church.
Another example of something you might hear someone say is:
‘We don’t know whom this story is about. Let’s not speculate.’
In this case, the subject isn’t the ‘whom’ but the ‘we’ because the ‘we’ is the one doing the ‘not-knowing.’
Definition of ‘Who’: What Does ‘Who’ Mean?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘who’ as:
- What or which person or persons (used as an interrogative).
It also means:
- Used by speakers on all educational levels and by many reputable writers, though disapproved by some grammarians, as the object of a verb or a following preposition
- The person or persons that (whoever)
- Used as a function word to introduce a relative clause (used especially in reference to persons)
- In reference to groups
- In reference to animals
- In reference to inanimate objects, especially with the implication that the reference is really to a person
Definition of ‘Whom’: What Does ‘Whom’ Mean?
The same dictionary defines ‘whom’ as:
- Used as an interrogative or relative (as an object of a verb or a preceding preposition).
It could also mean:
- Of less frequently as the object of a following preposition
- Often considered stilted, especially as an interrogative and especially in oral use
Pronunciation: How to Pronounce ‘Who’ and ‘Whom’
Are you unsure of how to pronounce these words? Here’s a short guide.
To pronounce ‘who’ correctly, here’s the phonetic spelling:
To pronounce ‘whom’ correctly, here’s the phonetic spelling:
How to Use ‘Who’ and ‘Whom’ in a Sentence
Now that we know what both words mean and how to pronounce them, let’s see some examples of how to use them in a sentence.
- Who wants to come to the supermarket with me? I’ll buy you guys something special – whoever comes.
- My sister absolutely hates to fly, but her husband lives overseas, so she flies all the time now. I guess she’s gotten used to it.
- I wasn’t sure who would be there, but I decided to go anyway. Maybe Stacy will show up, and I’ll actually have someone to talk to.
- I used to love that song by Xscape, ‘Who Can I Run To?’ That’s one classic 90s R&B hit I can listen to over and over again to this day.
- Who has been in my room? I know someone’s been in here because a few things have been moved around. Someone better starts answering me soon, or everyone’s getting in trouble!
- I think addressing an email ‘To Whom It May Concern’ is so formal and impersonal. I’d much rather address the person by name if I can find it.
- The expose of that restaurateur and his famous establishment was pretty brutal. I can’t believe he fell so far after climbing so high.
- She saw the faces of those whom she loved as she came down the stairs with the rest of her graduating class. They were all so proud of her that they held up their ‘Congratulations on Your Graduation’ banner as high as they could.
- I saw a woman whom I assumed was Peter’s associate, so I asked her where I could find him. She told me he was in a meeting and that I’d have to wait.
- To whom should I address my complaint? The service has been terrible, and my food was cold, so I’d like to speak to the manager, please.
Final Thoughts on ‘Who’ and ‘Whom’
To recap, we learned that:
- ‘Who’ is the subject that’s performing the action in the sentence.
- ‘Whom’ acts more like an object in the sentence, and it’s usually the one receiving the action.
‘Who’ and ‘whom’ is often incorrectly used interchangeably, but they have slightly different meanings, so don’t use them interchangeably.
If you ever get stuck on anything, feel free to come back for a quick review of what you learned. We’ve got a ton of content dedicated to confusing words and phrases you might see as you’re learning the language. Don’t be afraid to go check it out.