Weekly Writing Tip #29

Photo of James HayashiThis post was written by James Hayashi. James is the writing advisor for USC Rossier Online and Rossier’s Masters Programs office. He earned his Master of Professional Writing from USC, and enjoys writing in the field of creative non-fiction in his (limited) free time.

Who or Whom?

Dear Master’s student,

Welcome back to a new academic year! To those whom who took some time off during summer: I hope you had a restful break without too much summer learning loss. To students whom who worked all the way through our heat wave: I feel your pain, but hopefully your writing skills stayed sharp with all that course work.

Since the fall term is in full-swing, let’s jump right into a nitty-gritty writing issue that pretty much every writer has struggled with: when to use “who” and when to use “whom.”

As much as I love a good arcane grammar explanation, I’ll spare our master’s students that singular joy.* Instead, get ready for a handy trick that will revolutionize your grammatical world.

1. First notice that whom and him both end in “m.” We’ll use them interchangeably with this shortcut:

whom⇌ him

Also note that who and he both end in vowels. Those two will be swapped for each other, too:

who ⇌ he

2. When you’re writing a sentence and aren’t sure whether to type out a “who” or a “whom,” look at the words immediately after the who/whom point-of-conundrum, and then swap him for whom, and he for who. At this point, most people can “hear” which version sounds better.

For example,

Researchers {who/whom} we gave grants to are beholden to us.

Using the trick mentioned above, consider which of the following “sounds” better:

We gave grants to [he].

We gave grants to [him].

3. Hopefully you picked the second version. Since him can be swapped with whom according to our grammar shortcut, the sentence should read “Researchers whom we gave grants to are beholden to us.”

Try a few more for practice:

(a) He is the man {who/whom} Barkley loaned the book to.

(b) He is the man {who/whom} loaned Barkley the book.

Weekly Writing Tip

(c) Jamie Lannister, {who/whom} has just had his sword-hand amputated, rushes in to save Brienne from a monstrous bear.

(d) Alex and Dave don’t know {who/whom} to confide in after they break up for the second time.

(e) Those {who/whom} have seen Girls know that Shoshanna has a keen mathematical mind and fairly fast growing hair.

Happy writing!


PS: The answers:

(a) whom

(b) who

(c) who

(d) whom

(e) who

* But, of course, I’m more than happy to indulge anyone seeking the “complete” exposition, complete with terms like “nominative case” and a rundown on English pronouns. Email me at jhayashi@usc.edu .