The Grammarphobia Blog


Q: Could you provide 100 examples of the correct use of “who” vs. “whom”?  Most authorities explain the principles, but don’t provide enough examples. Also, is it “First  … Second … Third” or “Firstly … Secondly … Thirdly” in a prose list of things?

A: First (or firstly), we’ll answer your second question. As we explained in a posting a few years ago, both versions are OK.

Now for “who” versus “whom,” a subject we’ve often discussed on the blog.

We won’t give you 100 examples, just a handful of typical sentences in which “who” and “whom” are used correctly, followed by the relevant rules, plus links to the posts in which we discuss them.

 (1) “Nathan wouldn’t tell Miss Adelaide whom he invited to his crap game.”

Rule: If it’s an object, it’s “whom.” Don’t be misled by extraneous information—strip the sentence down mentally and rearrange to find the subject, verb, and object of the relevant clause: “he invited whom.” (May 12, 2012)

(2) “Nathan invited only guys who he thought played for high stakes.”

Rule: If it’s a subject, it’s “who.” Don’t be misled by extraneous information—strip the clause down to “who played for high stakes.” (May 12, 2012)

(3) “It involves all girls, of all races and backgrounds, many of whom are held back by societal barriers.”

Rule: Don’t be confused by “of whom” in phrases like “many of whom,” “several of whom,” “most of whom,” “all of whom,” “few of whom,” “one of whom,” and so on. The subject in such a phrase is what precedes “of.” (Aug. 5, 2012)

(4) “Who does the manager think will be the most efficient employee, she or he?”  … “This is the friend who I said wanted to meet you.”

Rule: Don’t be misled by information that comes between subject and verb. In the examples, “who” is the subject of the verbs “will” and “wanted.” (May 12, 2012)

(5) “Give it to whoever needs it.”

Rule:  When the pronoun is the subject of a verb (“needs” in this case), it’s “who” (or “whoever”), even when it directly follows a preposition. The object of the preposition isn’t the pronoun; it’s a clause in which the pronoun is the subject. (Sept. 1, 2008)

(6) “Who else was there for me to talk to?”

Rule: The main clause in this sentence—“Who else was there”—is an interrogative clause with “who” as its subject. The additional information afterward doesn’t change that. (April 18, 2013)

Now for some wiggle room:

(7) “Who [or Whom] did you go to the movies with?”  … “Who’s [or Whom is] the letter from?” In these sentences, “whom” is grammatically correct but “who” may be used informally.

Rule: At the beginning of a phrase or clause, “whom” can be grammatically correct but unnatural in everyday usage. In such cases, “who” can be used. We don’t recommend this after a preposition, though, as in “That depends on whom you ask.” (Nov. 18, 2010)

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