I need some clarity on the usage of who and whom, and which is the correct sentence between these two?

  1. The man WHOM I thought was thoroughly honest proved to be a swindler.
  2. The man WHO I thought was thoroughly honest proved to be a swindler.
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers Not in this particular case. Notice that you can drop the whom here because it isn't the Subject of the relative clause. In such instances, real speakers will very often use whom. It's also complicated because the who could easily trick learners into thinking it was the Object of the verb think (rather than the Subject of the verb was). Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 16:28
  • @FumbleFingers See here for examples from published books Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 16:34
  • @Araucaria: Hmm. Okay - some pedants. Me, I'd be unlikely to use whom in any context except after a preposition (To whom it may concern, For Whom the Bell Tolls,...) Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 16:36
  • @FumbleFingers Me too. Couldn't agree more! Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 16:46
  • Nominative "who" is the default pronoun since it is an embedded subject, but accusative "whom" is heard.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 19:26

2 Answers 2


OYou can use either who or whom; both are correct grammatically.

It's common to use "who" in place of the object pronoun "whom". The use of the whom is formal or less common in speech and writing.

Furthermore, the who/whom is a relative object pronoun in the relative defining clause "who/whom I thought was thoroughly honest". You can drop the who/whom. Besides, you can also use the structure think + someone + adjective. So you can also drop "was" in the clause. The sentence can be rephrased or reduced as follows:

The man (who/whom) I thought thoroughly honest proved to be a swindler.

  • 3
    I fully and wholeheartedly agree with you that both are correct here (although your grammatical analysis is not quite right). However - many scholars would disagree. The reason is that the word who(m) is the Subject of the clause was thoroughly honest in the Original Poster's example. It is not the Direct Object of think. If we reinserted a pronoun in the gap, we would find the word he, not the word him. Nonetheless, as I say, you are correct that both, in fact, are grammatical. Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 16:22
  • @Araucaria Shouldn't the passive was proven be used in the sentence? As in, The man WHO I thought was thoroughly honest was proven to be a swindler. ? Just asking :)
    – Marah
    Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 16:50
  • 1
    @Marah: Nah. Idiomatically, we normally only use proven as an adjective (as in a proven formula). When it's used as a straightforward verb (as in he proved the formula), we use the regular past tense. Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 16:58
  • @FumbleFingers I did not know that ... I thought it is possible since proven is the past participle form of prove. Thank you! :)
    – Marah
    Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 17:09
  • 2
    @Khan Araucaria is correct. You must realise that within the relative clause is an embedded clause: "The man [who I thought [__was thoroughly honest]] proved to be a swindler, where gap represents the subject of the embedded clause and would normally be realised by the nominative "who", though some allow "whom".
    – BillJ
    Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 19:49

In this specific sentence the use of who is correct.

As a rule of thumb:

Think whether you would use he or him if the sentence was written differently. In this case you would say "The man proved to be a swindler. I thought HE was thoroughly honest."

If you wanted to say "I thought of HIM as thoroughly honest.", whom would be the way to go

  • 2
    But, if you are not sure which of "who" or "whom" is correct, do you realize that a native speaker would just as likely say "The man I thought was thoroughly honest proved to be a swindler"? -- the 'who' or 'whom' is superfluous, and can easily be omitted!
    – Warren Ham
    Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 12:31
  • 2
    @WarrenHam - Yes, it's true that who/whom can often be omitted, but the point is to think of which one you would use.
    – stangdon
    Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 12:40
  • @WarrenHam That is indeed correct. I'd even say that almost nobody would even notice if you never used whom at all, even when it'd be technically correct. But in the context of this specific question, that point wasn't completely relevant.
    – Tobey
    Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 12:41
  • I'll give you an upvote if you include the information that you can use either 'who' or 'whom' here. It's only incorrect to use who if the who(m) is the object of a preposition that has been pied piped (which just means it's been moved to the front of the clause). Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 16:32

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .