Using who and whom correctly

Summary

This article provides a simple way to choose between who and whom.

When should you use who, and when should you use whom?

Well, there are two schools of thought on the topic. Let's call them contemporary and traditional. We'll look at each in turn.

Contemporary usage

It's becoming rare to see whom these days because most of us use who in almost all cases. Let's face it, whom can sound rather pretentious and stuffy, can't it? For example:

To whom am I speaking?

Whom am I speaking to?

These sound very formal. Many of us would be more inclined to write or say:

Who am I speaking to?

Nonetheless, there are still a few stock phrases that use whom, even in contemporary English. For example:

To whom it may concern

In almost all other cases, it has become acceptable in contemporary English usage to use who.

Traditional usage

Having said that you can use who in almost all cases, it's still quite easy to use whom in the traditional fashion.

Consider the following sentence: To who/whom do I send this?

Here's how to decide whether to use who or whom:

Step 1:

Look at the words after who/whom, In this case, they're: do I send this?

Step 2:

Rephrase these words to include he or him: That gives us: Do I send this to he/him?

Step 3:

If it sounds better with he, the original sentence should use who. If it sounds better with him, the original sentence should use whom.

So, which sounds better? Do I send this to he? or Do I send this to him?

Well, in this case, him sounds better, so the original sentence uses whom: To whom do I send this?

If you choose to follow this traditional usage, one extra piece of advice is worth noting: It was common not to use whom as the first word in a sentence. Thus, even with traditional usage, you might prefer to write:

Who am I speaking to?

rather than:

Whom am I speaking to?

Easy.