• I know the girl who/whom/that you are talking to.
  • It was the girl who/whom/that her mother punished for stealing money.

In these two sentences,which relative pronoun is suitable?

  • 2
    The first sentence is a prize winner: I know the girl who you are talking to. In a single sentence, you raise the blood pressure of proponents of two separate "rules!" In either sentence, though, you can use any of them. Sep 4, 2016 at 2:26
  • 1
    With personal antecedents, there is slight preference for "that" when it is not the subject of the relative clause, as in your examples. But it is only a preference, not a hard-and-fast rule. One advantage, though, of using "that" is that it avoids having to make the choice between formal "whom" and informal "who". But all three are perfectly grammatical.
    – BillJ
    Sep 4, 2016 at 6:21
  • Possible duplicate of How can one differentiate between "who" and "whom"?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Dec 15, 2016 at 12:31

1 Answer 1


NOTE: personal pronouns like who and whom have case form. The case form for who is the nominative case (often the subject of a sentence); the case form for whom is the objective case, usually a direct object.

CORRECT: I know the girl whom you are talking to.

The relative pronoun "whom" is in the objective case. This means it acts not a subject, for example, but as an object. Who is the other case, the nominative case; it's the one you would use as a subject the sentence. The rule is that the object of a preposition "to" in a prepositional phrase is in the objective case: whom.

I know the girl. You are talking to whom

CORRECT: It was the girl whom her mother punished for stealing money.

For this one, we'll remove the main clause: It was the girl. [this is the main clause; it's and independent clause, which means it can stand on it's own as a sentence.

That leaves the dependent clause: who/whom/that her mother punished for stealing money [If we take out the relative pronouns, we can see if we have a subject and a verb: her mother punished for stealing. There's the verb--punished Now where's the subject? mother. But something is missing. Who? or What? did the mother punish? The girl. The girl is the direct object [she receives the action of the verb] of the verb "punished" and so since "girl" is in the main clause, her antecedent (the word the pronoun stands for), as a direct object, it needs to be in the objective case for the personal pronoun "who" which, if you recall in the first sentence is "whom" so....

"...her mother punished whom for stealing the money."

Which, that, who Remember the relative pronoun who refers to people only; which refers to things only; that refers to either people or things.—John E. Warriner. Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition. Third Course. Liberty Edition. Orlando, Florida: Harcourt, Brace, and Jovanovich. 1986. 270. But, as you see, who strictly refers to people. It's your choice.


CORRECT: I know the girl that you are talking to.

CORRECT: It was the girl that her mother punished for stealing money.

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