A Word with Beth — Giving a Hoot about Who and Whom

Owl photographed by Raymond W. Stilborn.
Owl photographed by Raymond W. Stilborn.

No questions were submitted for this month’s Word with Beth, so I will have to wing it.

I’ve called on the resident wise owl to assist me. After all, whooooo better to give a hoot about whooooo and whooooom than an owl?

The use of ‘whom’ isn’t as common as it once was (rather like owls in the wild in that respect), but it does have its place. And no, it isn’t just for times when you want to sound high-falutin’ and fancy.

Remember learning about subjects and objects in English class? Some of you are, no doubt, smiling smugly, while others are saying, “Sure Beth, I remember learning about them. I just don’t remember what I learned.” Fair enough.

The subject in a sentence is the one who does the action of the sentence. I threw the ball to him. I am the subject. I’m doing the throwing. (Which means whoever is trying to catch the ball doesn’t have a hope, because that ball went way wide of its target. 😉 )

The object in a sentence is the one who has the action done to him, her or it. Him in this case.

So if someone wanted to ask which of us threw the ball, they’d be talking about the subject. Who threw the ball?

But if that someone wanted to know which of us had the ball thrown to him, they’d be talking about the object of the action. To whom was the ball thrown?

Notice another thing – if there’s a preposition before it, like to or by, you use whom. You do NOT say “To who was the ball thrown?” At least I hope you don’t. 😉

And as all the grammar texts and blogs say at this point, the simple way to remember it is this: if you can replace the who or whom word with him, use whom. If you’d replace the who or whom word with he, use who. The Ms stick together. Him and whom. Best buddies.

So, using the same examples as above, you wouldn’t say, “Him threw the ball”, you’d say, “He threw the ball”. So, in that case you use who.

You wouldn’t say, “Was the ball thrown to he”, you’d say, “Was the ball thrown to him.” So, in that case you use whom.

Want to test your skills, or alternatively, test my teaching? Here’s a quiz you can take online. Here’s another quiz – with this one you get to take basketball free shots if you get the right answer. Full disclosure: I got a lot of right answers. I got no baskets.

If you want to submit a question for next month’s Grammar Q&A, please send me an email at mail (at) flubs2fixes (dot) com.

If you’re looking for a proofreader or copy editor, check out my Flubs2Fixes service!

8 thoughts on “A Word with Beth — Giving a Hoot about Who and Whom”

  1. Perfect post for those of us who don’t even know the right questions to ask! Thanks, Beth. 🙂

  2. That was fun. I answered all the who and whom correctly (thanks to your help!) but which and that ….maybe can be your next course? LOL. I really messed those up!!! 🙁

  3. That was fun. Who and whom aren’t a problem for me. I can’t think of anything right now, but there are some things I have to stop and think about. Thanks heavens I held onto my old AP Style Books.

  4. Brilliant explanation! This is the first time in my entire life that I understood the difference and will be confident about using these two demons correctly. Thank you, Beth!

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