The difference between who and whom

This is an error I have been noticing in a couple of the Michael Connelly books I have read lately. I was surprised that these errors hadn’t been picked up by the editor or corrected in newer editions. When writing, it is sometimes hard to know whether to use who or whom. When reading, however, you generally pick it up because a whom in the wrong place really destroys the rhythm of the sentence.

Reading aloud is a great tool when checking a text. It picks up long sentences, dangling modifiers, commas in the wrong places, and other syntactical errors.

  • Who is the subject of a sentence (if you can replace it with he, then use who)
  • Whom is the object of a sentence (if you can replace it with hiM, then use whoM)

Author: Janet Carr

Fashion, beauty and animal loving language consultant from South Africa living in Stockholm, Sweden.

7 thoughts

  1. It’s because publishers go for the cheap option of a digital editor, much like Microsoft’s or Apple’s spell checker, instead of a human “reader”, an expert in grammar and spelling. The software only recognises words in isolation, so both “who” and “whom” cone up as correct regardless of context, but I’m sure you were aware of that. AI will only make it worse, I suspect.

    1. I have seen glaring examples of the misuse of whom in several Michael Connelly novels. He is famous enough to have a pretty good editor I assume, but said editor obviously doesn’t know the rule. I don’t have any problem with the man in the street misusing it, because it can be confusing. But if language is your job, it really is something you should know, particularly when the book is in its eleventh printing. I am not expecting writers to know that, because I have met some brilliant journalists who have appalling grammar, but an editor really should. You should not have worse grammar than your readers. And don’t get me started on AI..

  2. A super article, Janet and most useful. I certainly get confused, and I’m English, but funnily enough we were never taught this in school, neither were we taught when to use I or me, although that one is not nearly so tricky once you have a simple rule.

  3. Who and whom are much trickier than the I/me subject/object errors people make eg

    To whom did you give it?
    Who did you give it to?

    The first is, I think, correct but sounds pedantic and clumsy. The second is, perhaps, incorrect but springs readily from the lips and is very common.

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