Last Updated:
A pile of individual different printed word cut-outs

Who Or Whom

Brian Austin
Brian Austin Authors

The English language provides an abundant variety of ways in which you can express your thoughts, ideas, concepts, and emotions. However, such a wide choice can often lead to confusion. Some similar sounding words can have subtly different meanings.

For example "who" and "whom" are known to confuse. As cultures evolve, what was important yesterday may not be so important today.

Each new generation modifies and redefines language of its country and sometimes globally too. As a result, many today simply use "who" and rarely use "Whom".

What's more, sometimes, we can write or speak in a way that may be grammatically correct, but still sound snobbish or pretentious.

In real world situations where we seek to persuade or engage readers or visitors, by insisting on precision or "correct" writing, over common sense, or our gut feel, we can already have lost the goal. To avoid such situations, why not let the requirements of your audience determine your best action and approach?

Nevertheless, here's are some simple guidelines to help you determine whether to use "who" or "whom" in your writing and speaking presentations.

Start by writing your sentence. Then:

  • Try substituting the word "he", "she" or "they" in your sentence. If the result reads correctly, use "who". For example, consider the sentence: "She will write the next article". Therefore we use "who" so the sentence now reads: "Who will write the next article?"
  • Substitute the word "him", "her" or "them". If the result reads correctly, consider using "whom". Again, here's an example. If the sentence is: "So, you'll be discussing this option with him?", we use "whom". Now the sentence reads: "So you'll be discussing this option with whom?"

However, Communication Styles Appear To Be Simplifying

Unless you're writing for a pedantic literary audience that revels in picking at the bones of your perceived mistakes, and you feel sensitive about that growing new reality, the differences above are subtle and arguably not so important today.

Even though the quick tests above can help you determine the correct choice every time, a growing number of publication styles today are simply opting to use "who". On occasions, I too may use "who" when some may argue, I should be using "whom".

Whatever you decide, if your meaning is clear, you have achieved your goal of sharing clear communication.

Key tip: whenever you too are faced with the "who / whom" minor dilemma, I suggest you too also use your own judgment.

Why?

  • Sometimes, using "whom" which although may be correct, can simply make your writing or speaking appear staid, pompous, unfriendly or too formal today. The English speaking world is moving on, and price of seeming distant can be irrelevance.
  • The word "boring" is the great cancer all writers and communicators would do well to avoid. While you can't of course write for everyone, strive not to be boring. Though you don't need to be crass either. There is a formula for you. Find that unique recipe to communicate well in the style you like.
  • While trends may suggest fewer and fewer people are actually reading today, that will change, in time. Cycles tend to repeat. Plus, you don't need to connect with everyone in the world to make a fantastic living using words whether written or spoken. Strive to do what you do as well as you can, and keep learning, testing, perfecting. 
  • Remember, one of the most important goals of any writing or speaking is simply to connect with your audience, engage, entertain, share something useful. So certainly don't do anything that may hamper your progress.
  • While in an ideal world, second chances should prevail, unfortunately, because we humans have a tendency to be "surface judgemental", first impressions really do count, especially if you only have one chance to make a blast. 
  • Writing, speaking, and presenting tends to mirror how we speak. Today, few use "whom" in spoken conversation when addressing or interacting with a wide audience.
  • While we might think that most may not even care whether we use "whom" or "who" for most writing situations, the writing choices we make, can make us stand out, for the wrong reasons. So we could be grammatically correct in our choice, yet lose the "positive communications" battle. Or "win the battle" but "lose the war". The solution: understand and clarify what we ant to achieve, then choose.
  • Breaking accepted conventions can be great for cutting through the noise of everything that clamors for our attention. You can blend in and become unnoticed. Or, you can do something different - for the right reasons. Why not?
  • However, I do recommend that you adjust your writing or speaking style to match or mirror the literary "pitch" of your audience or readership.