Thursday, March 28, 2013

Who vs. Whom

Tonight, on VERSUS: this subjective pronoun versus this objective pronoun!

(Anybody else watch AFV? ... Anyone? No? Just me? All right.)

We've got another tricky grammar distinction this week. I bet you've guessed what it's about. That's right, it's who vs. whom.

Let's start out by discussing the difference between a subject and an object. The subject of a sentence is the person or thing that is performing an action. For example, let's look at the sentence "Anabell stole the five dollars that Amos won at the state fair." What is the action being performed in this sentence? Stole. Who stole? Anabell. Therefore, Anabell is the subject of our sentence.

So what's the object? An object is the person or thing that is "receiving" the action, so to speak. So, what is being stolen in this sentence? The five dollars. That's our object.

Now we need to define pronouns. A pronoun is a noun that can stand in for another noun. For example, "After Anabell spent her stolen five dollars, she felt guilty." In this sentence, "she" is replacing "Anabell." It basically just makes it so we don't have to say "Anabell" twice. Handy, right?

So what does this all have to do with who and whom? Well, who is a subjective pronoun. Aha! So that means that we use who when we want to refer to someone performing an action (like a subject) without directly saying their name (like a pronoun). Therefore, we could say, "Anabell, who stole the five dollars, couldn't look Amos in the eye for days."

You probably knew how to use who correctly already. But what about whom? Whom is an objective pronoun. That means it's standing in for someone who is the object of the sentence. For example, "The boy whom Anabell wronged was Amos."

It's not always easy to distinguish the two. Let's practice.
  1. "It was Jim (who/whom) brought the coffee today."
  2. "I learned nothing about the man (who/whom) I saw."
  3. "She is the woman to (who/whom) I owe my life."
What did you get?
  1. Who
  2. Whom
  3. Whom
In 1, Jim is a subject, so we know it can't be whom. In 2, our subject is "I," and "the man" is receiving the action, being seen. That's why it's whom. In 3, our subject is "I" again, and "the woman" is being owed.

If this isn't familiar to you, or whom sounds stilted and weird, it might be because whom is going out of fashion. But now that you know the rules, you can start using it and maybe even help keep it alive!

Once again, if you have a tricky sentence, post it in the comments below and we can help you work it out.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for clearing that up for me. How about advice vs. advise for the next one?