30

I'm learning English through online courses.

I'm enrolled at the Write101x, managed by University of Queensland, Australia.

In this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8a7UQe82tnY about 2:47 minutes, the lady says the following:

Many writers believe that 'whom' is on its way out because it can sound very pompous. Some even believe it’s circling the drain. However, it is still used in expressions like ‘to whom it may concern’. In the sentence ‘the girl whom you’ve been dancing with is on her way to the top’, most writers would use ‘who’ rather than ‘whom’, and it’s fine to do that.

I'm not sure about what she meant.

Should I replace 'whom' by 'who' in every sentence (but still using in traditional cases like 'to whom it may concern')?

OR

Should I try to replace 'whom' by 'who' whenever it is possible (like in the sentence: ‘the girl whom you’ve been dancing with is on her way to the top’) ?

  • 2
    I agree with @Catija that this question is more about style, opinion, or class/status positioning than correctness. If you can use it consistently and correctly, I would keep using whom, but be aware that it can sound pompous or over-educated in casual situations. And the idea of avoiding the issue by omitting the pronoun entirely is also a good one. – Wim Lewis Aug 28 '15 at 22:38
  • 20
    I don't think it sounds pompous to use whom. Don't dwell on it or stress it unduly, and it will just sound like you have a good command of the language. HOWEVER: Incorrectly using whom when who is called for (e.g. Fig 1 depicts a system detecting people whom are crossing regions. ell.stackexchange.com/questions/47234/… ) sounds awful. My advice: Use whom when you are confident that it is correct. If in doubt, use who, because it sounds much better to err in that direction than the other. – Adam Aug 28 '15 at 22:45
  • 3
    @Cardinal that is the rule, yes. The issue is that it's an often ignored rule. I'd bet the average American is unable to tell you if who or whom is appropriate in a situation. – Catija Aug 28 '15 at 22:47
  • 4
    English really isn't as rigorous as you might imagine. Usage of the word whom will depend on whom you ask. Technically, there is always a "right" answer, but most natives couldn't tell you without looking it up. Here's a little thing that might help you out, though: theoatmeal.com/comics/who_vs_whom. – phyrfox Aug 29 '15 at 5:38
  • 6
    "The girl with whom you've been dancing" if you are using 'whom'. "The girl whom you've been dancing with" sounds like a mishmash of styles. – abligh Aug 29 '15 at 10:50
17

I'm going to answer your question from the point of view of interpreting what's said in the video, specifically... I think this is one of the main points of your question and I think understanding that will help you understand the wonderful world that is "who vs whom".

Let's look at what she says, first:

Many writers believe that 'whom' is on its way out because it can sound very pompous.

As you've seen in the comments, there are differing opinions on this... my personal feeling is that, in the relaxed, informal world of spoken English, this is more likely and in the more formal world of written English, it's less likely to feel pompous.

Some even believe it’s circling the drain.

Probably true to some degree. Note she says "some"... she doesn't say "it's widely believed to be circling the drain" - the idiom here meaning it's on the way out of popular use.

As I've stated in a comment, if you gave the average American a question about whether "who" or "whom" was appropriate in a series of sentences, they'd likely get it wrong. I probably get it wrong occasionally.

However, it is still used in expressions like ‘to whom it may concern’.

Yes... but it's a bit reductive to imply that this is the only place it's regularly used. I'd argue this is simply a better-known idiom, so more people are likely to know that this is an example of the correct usage.

In the sentence ‘the girl whom you’ve been dancing with is on her way to the top’

There's a couple things about this sample sentence that I feel are suboptimal:

  • She's split the preposition off of the object, "whom", by rearranging the sentence.
  • I, personally, wouldn't use either "who" or "whom" in this particular arrangement of the sentence.

Better versions of the sentence (in my mind) would be to either omit the pronoun entirely

the girl you’ve been dancing with is on her way to the top

or to keep the preposition before the object

the girl with whom you’ve been dancing is on her way to the top

Now, at least, including the pronoun makes some sense to me. I still prefer the version without "whom" as this version feels a bit odd or stilted to me.

I suppose the rearrangement could be an Australian construction but I'm not sure.

most writers would use ‘who’ rather than ‘whom’, and it’s fine to do that.

This is, I think, where the main crux of the question comes in. I think it's bad teaching to say "most writers do X"... I disagree that "most writers" would use the construction in her sample. Regardless of that, she says "it's fine to do that"... and that is true. It may be a technically ungrammatical choice to use "who" but it is not an uncommon actual use.

That being said, she only says "it's fine to use who in place of whom", which is generally true... what she does not say is "don't use whom".

So, in relation to the two options in your question, the answer is, "neither". You are quite welcome to use (or continue to use) "whom" appropriately. There is no reason to intentionally use "who" when you know that "whom" is correct. If you're unsure which is correct, it's acceptable in many circles to use "who" in all cases... but don't be startled if someone corrects you.

From my point of view, saying "to who were you speaking" sounds wrong... because it should be "whom". There are some great references in our network for proper usage of who and whom and encourage you to check them out for more information.

  • 1
    Such a discussion just calls for the inevitable Abbott and Costello link :) – Hagen von Eitzen Aug 30 '15 at 21:52
  • Oh we can do better than that. Here's the video – candied_orange Aug 31 '15 at 13:40
  • "It may be a technically ungrammatical" <-- Technically, there isn't such a thing as 'technically ungrammatical'. – Araucaria Aug 7 '16 at 18:32
32

Words don't get "deprecated" the way APIs do. They may gradually fall out of use, but they're not scheduled for obsolescence.

The word whom will continue to function for a long time, in written works, long after Microsoft has stopped supporting Windows 20.

  • 1
    Informative, and quirky. 1+ – Ahkam Nihardeen Aug 29 '15 at 9:43
  • 18
    Microsoft has announced that they will not release any new Windows after Windows 10 !. (Irrelevant ) – Cardinal Aug 29 '15 at 9:58
  • @Cardinal At last! – Hagen von Eitzen Aug 30 '15 at 21:53
  • 1
    @Cardinal, is that ten factorial? – msh210 Nov 6 '15 at 7:03
6

I agree with @TRomano that whom will continue to "function" for at least a few more generations. So if you use it correctly, it's quite okay to carry on.

You can even get away with using in wrongly sometimes. Not all native speakers will recognize every misuse (they might just assume you know better! :)

But definitely the easiest option is not to bother with it at all - unless you're certain it's correct, in which case it's really just a judgement call/style choice.


EDIT: In all fairness, to whom it may concern is so well-known almost every native speaker would probably notice if you switched to who there. But if you ask To who am I speaking?, I doubt the average telephone receptionist would notice anything wrong (or unusual - it happens all the time).

  • 4
    Of course, "Who am I speaking to?" is the current idiomatic way of saying it. – Micah Walter Aug 30 '15 at 1:39
  • @John: Indeed. I put it that way because I didn't want my hypothetical pedantic telephonist objecting to Whom am I speaking to? on the grounds that ending a sentence with a preposition is wrong anyway. Perhaps I should have chosen an example like Who did you see? But although according to the basic Victorian/Latin "rule" that also should be whom, I suspect many of the people who still use it at all would only do so following a preposition. It's all a bit of a mess - half-remembered rules half-heartedly adhered to by people who haven't yet moved on. – FumbleFingers Aug 30 '15 at 12:48
  • Yes, so I would say "To whom am I speaking?" is the standard pedantic way of saying it, and "Who am I speaking to?" is the standard colloquial way, but mixing them just sounds odd to me. – Micah Walter Aug 30 '15 at 13:55
  • @John: Noting the current votes on this page, I have some sympathy with our target audience of learners here on ELL. My answer (effectively saying Don't waste your time learning how to use whom) only has 4 upvotes, but there are 23 upvotes for TRomano's answer (which strongly implies You need to learn this, because it's part of standard English). My guess is most of the latter upvotes are from non-native speakers thinking I had to learn it, and I'm damned if I'm going to admit I wasted my time, so I'm gonna upvote this answer implying it's a useful lesson well learned. – FumbleFingers Aug 30 '15 at 14:12
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers Well, then, we need to recruit to the site more Americans who are determined to show Mrs. Blashfield, their 3rd grade teacher, that we need fewer words, not more (or I should rather say less words...) and that she was poking at the last embers of a quenched fire, and that she can take the whole damned objective case with her to the grave. – P. E. Dant Jul 27 '16 at 6:17
5

Language is changing constantly as we can see in the case of the accusative or object form "whom" (question word and relative pronoun).

In colloquial language "whom" has vanished. The m has simply been dropped.

In written formal language "whom" is still used.

It is not a matter of deprecation, but one of up-coming new usage (at first always in spoken language) with the older original form being kept in formal written language for a long time.

4

They are different parts of speech. "Who" is a subject noun, "whom" is an object noun. A quick-and-dirty way to determine which form is correct is to substitute "he" for "who" and "him" for "whom", it's generally easier to hear which form is correct:

Example 1: "He gave the ball to Jack." OR "Him gave the ball to Jack." ? "He" sounds correct, so the sentence "Who gave the ball to Jack" is what you want.

Example 2: "Jill gave the ball to he." OR "Jill gave the ball to him." ? "him" sounds correct, so the sentence "Jill gave the ball to whom?" is what you want.

As others have answered, "who" is used incorrectly in many cases and has snuck into the vernacular, but I wouldn't say it's on it's way out.

Should I replace 'whom' by 'who' in every sentence (but still using in traditional cases like 'to whom it may concern')?

OR

Should I try to replace 'whom' by 'who' whenever it is possible (like in the sentence: ‘the girl whom you’ve been dancing with is on her way to the top’) ?

No. Determine which form is correct, and use it.

  • 1
    +1 both for the he/him substitution method to clearly define proper usage (I think this method is universally correct; I can't think of any example sentence that would disobey this rule), and for pointing out explicitly that using either word exclusively would be incorrect. If I could vote up twice... – Dan Henderson Aug 29 '15 at 19:06
  • 1
    No, they are not nouns, they are pronouns. And "determining which form is correct" only makes sense in the context of what actual native speakers currently do. Otherwise, it's the equivalent of insisting on ye vs. you. – Micah Walter Aug 30 '15 at 1:40
  • @JohnPeyton whoops yep you are correct! They are pronouns. – Max O'Lydian Aug 30 '15 at 11:39
  • How does the he/him or she/her trick work in "the girl whom you’ve been dancing with"? – sheß Aug 30 '15 at 22:11
  • @sheß Yes, it's not perfect. You'd need to rearrange the original sentence somewhat. Some would say it needs rearranging anyway, since it ends with a preposition, but that's another matter. Rearrange to: the girl with whom you've been dancing, then substitute- "the girl, with her you have been dancing" is preferable to "with she you have been dancing". – Max O'Lydian Aug 31 '15 at 2:48
-6

I, myself, find using whom as being proper... Whom should I address this to? Versus ~ Who should I address this to? Though both are acceptable one is proper grammar. Over the years our American English language has gotten sloppy or should I say lazy. Who are you? Obviously would sound grammatically awkward if we asked Whom are you? If I said, He is my friend, who I have known for years. (Or) He is my friend whom I have known for years. The second one appears to give emphasis of friendship over the first as more of an acquaintance / friend. Though we are American, we still give some quasi credit to the Queen's English / British, of strength and value.

  • 1
    Welcome to ELL! "We" are actually from all over the globe. "You" might be American, though. ;) – Catija Aug 29 '15 at 7:04
  • Thank you. As to my answer that is why I also made mention that "Whom" was more closely related to emphasis toward relationship AND the fact as proper relating to colonial times when Great Britain cast their net around the world. – BroFarOps SEO Aug 29 '15 at 7:22
  • " Though we are American" We are? Nobody ever told me. – David Richerby Aug 29 '15 at 20:22
  • 1
    It's worth noting that a more natural construction for the example given is "He is my friend, that I have known for years". You wouldn't say "He I have known for years" or "Him I have known for years", so it makes sense that neither "who" nor "whom" is used. Also, the only use I'm aware of, of the phrasing "Whom are you?", is Alice in Wonderland (the cartoon - I couldn't even tell you if it was used in the original book) - "Who are you" because "I am you" or "He is you" - it's clearly a subject, not an object, in that position in the question. – Glen O Aug 30 '15 at 13:22
  • I spent a few minutes trying to parse the fact as proper relating to colonial times and finally concluded that it has no meaning, no matter to whom it is addressed. – P. E. Dant Aug 8 '16 at 0:16

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.