Many times, I've been asked the difference between "who" and "whom". I myself know the difference, but it is hard to explain to others. What is the easiest way to explain it to those with a basic understanding of English? A mnemonic (if possible) would help.

  • 10
    Calvin Trillin once wrote: "As far as I'm concerned, whom is a word that was invented to make everyone sound like a butler."
    – user230
    Apr 6, 2013 at 18:40

5 Answers 5


In modern informal usage

Traditionally, who and whom are distinguished: who is used as a subject, whom as an object. But the distinction produces a number of inconsistencies, and it has confused even such native speakers as William Shakespeare, the translators of the King James Bible, and Daniel Defoe.1

Fortunately for the English learner, in modern informal English, you don't need to distinguish them. Who (as well as derived forms like whoever) can be used in all positions.

For instance, who can be used as both a subject and an object (as an interrogative):

Whosubject of "[i]s"'s there?

They sacked whoobject of "sacked"?

Whoobject of "to" will the task be assigned to?

and similarly when it heads a relative clause:

Give it to anyone who asks for it.

Give it to the employee who it's assigned to.

"Whom" will generally still be used when it immediately follows the preposition it is the object of. But such constructions are uncommon in informal English, since pied-piping of prepositions is used only in formal registers.

"Whomever" is essentially unused, with "whoever" used even immediately after a preposition:

Give it to whoeverobject of "to", subject of "asks" asks for it.

Give it to whoeverobject of "to", object of "picks" the computer picks.

1 That is, the distinction was never widely observed in detail.

  • 8
    No, the last one is wrong. One gives it to whomever the computer picks.
    – tchrist
    Feb 9, 2013 at 5:22
  • @tchrist: According to this NGram, Brits have come out resoundingly in favour of [give something] to whoever you like in recent decades. Switching the corpus to AmE reverses the preference in favour of ...to whomever you like, but I'm sure it's only a matter of time before you guys see the advantage of this particular simplification. Jul 2, 2021 at 12:07

You asked for a mnemonic; here’s a simple one:

  • Use who in places where he fits.
  • Use whom in places where him fits.
  • Use whose in places where his fits.
  • 5
    Who/whom she was talking to?
    – Maulik V
    Sep 11, 2014 at 4:50
  • 1
    @MaulikV I would tend to 1) "Who was she talking to?" and 2) "To whom was she talking?"
    – JoHKa
    Mar 19, 2020 at 21:46

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, English used to have noun cases. Generally, cases where the rules by which a noun changes.

When a noun was a primary actor in a sentence, it was used in a nominative case.
However, if a noun was an object of some action, other cases were used.


My brother is a doctor - here, "brother" is a primary subject, so nominative case was used;
I give an apple to my brother - here, "brother" is not a primary actor, so the noun used another case. Usually, dative;
I see my brother - here, "brother" is a direct object of an action, so the noun was in objective case.

There are many resemblances of former use of noun cases, and the most prominent example is pronouns:

Nominative "I", but objective "me";
Nominative "who", but objective "whom"

Hence, the answer to your question:

Who is used when you are talking about the subject (actor):

Who broke the window?

Whom is used when we are talking about an object of a certain action:

With whom are you going to a school?


Who is Subject Oriented Interrogative pronoun and Whom is Object Oriented Interrogative Pronoun.

Usage of Who:-

1) It can be used in place of subject to interrogate.

Ex- i) Who are you?

ii) Who taught you to talk like that?

2) It can also be used as a subject of a clause.

Ex- i) This is the person who was searching for you.

ii) Anybody who would like to climb the hill may come forward.

Usage of Whom:-

1) It can be used in place of object to interrogate.

Ex- i) Whom do you want to leave with?

ii) Whom is this present for?

2) It can also be used as a object of a clause.

Ex- i) This is the person whom I told you about.

3) Whom is always the correct choice after a preposition.

Ex- Katrina is the girl with whom I am going to date.


I taught this to my students in a very simple manner just last week.

Who broke the vase? Whom did mother call?

In the first sentence, the work is done by the unknown person 'who'. It is in active voice. Hence, we use 'who'.

In the second sentence, 'mother' does the work. The verb refers to the object. It is in passive voice. Hence, we use 'whom'.

In other words, if the unknown entity does the verb, use 'who'. If the verb is done on the unknown entity, use 'whom'.

  • 1
    Who/whom was she talking to? What is the choice as per this theory?
    – Maulik V
    Sep 11, 2014 at 4:51
  • 2
    Whom did my mother call? is not in the so-called passive voice. It is not a passive construction. Aug 7, 2016 at 10:14

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