Perhaps most people don’t care, but sometimes it matters.
If you are writing a graduate thesis or dissertation (or even an undergraduate term paper), chances are the faculty will care.
If you write for Internet content sites where a human editor chooses what to accept, chances are the editor will care. You can’t get away with not knowing the difference.
There is a very easy way to know with certainty which is correct, but first, look at the following sentences and fill in the blanks. Besides “who” and “whom,” the correct answer might be either “whoever” or “whomever.”
Quiz on who or whom
___ wants to know?
To ____ am I speaking?
_____ are you waiting for?
People ____ write for publication must know grammar.
Sam, _____ many considered the most likely winner, came in third.
I called three contractors and hired the only one ____ called back.
____ wants to may come.
We never know ___ you will like.
We can always be pretty sure ___ will be first in line.
Let’s give it to ______ needs if the most.
The disgraced star ___ many consider got a raw deal will never join the Hall of Fame.
The senator demanded that the witness identify ___ he worked for.
Instead of looking at each of these sentences individually in order to figure out whether to use “who” or “whom,” let’s consider a general rule. “Who” is the subject form and “whom” is the object form.
I had to learn to diagram sentences in junior high school. Miss Gelvin would have made me label each word both for its part of speech (noun, etc.) and it’s function (direct object, for example.) But I gather no one teaches that rather dreary task any more.
There’s an easier way, though. Simply recast the sentence or part of the sentence and see whether you can substitute “he” or “him” (“they” or “them” if you prefer).
If “he” or “they”–the form that ends with a vowel–is correct, fill the blank with “who.” If “him” or “them”–the form that ends with the letter “m”–is correct, fill the blank with “whom.”
How to find the right answers for the quiz
The first three above are easy. Just answer the question. He wants to know, therefore: Who wants to know? I am speaking to him, therefore: To whom am I speaking? You are waiting for him, therefore: Whom are you waiting for?
They write for publication, therefore: People who write for publication must know grammar.
Many considered him. . . , therefore: Sam, whom many considered the most likely winner, came in third.
He called back, therefore: I called three contractors and hired the only one who called back.
He may come, therefore: Whoever wants to may come.
You will like him, therefore: We never know whom you will like.
He will be first, therefore: We can always be pretty sure who will be first in line.
Let’s give it to him, therefore: Let’s give it to whomever needs if the most.
Many consider he got a raw deal, therefore: The disgraced star who many consider got a raw deal will never join the Hall of Fame.
He worked for him, therefore: The senator demanded that the witness identify whom he worked for.
How many did you get right? If you missed a few, don’t worry. Some of these sentences were modeled on mistakes that got past newspaper editors.