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"Who" versus "whom"

When do you use who vs. whom? Our language is changing, and it's becoming more appropriate to use "who" all over the place. But the basic rule is that "who" is the subject form ("Who is calling, please?") and "whom" is the object form ("Whom did you see in the garden?") The only thing to remember is to never use "whom" as a subject ("Whom is calling?" is ungrammatical).

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Video transcript

- [Voiceover] Hello grammarians. Welcome to one the thorniest fights in English usage today. The question of whether or not you should use who or whom in a sentence as a relative pronoun. So there's this basic idea that who is the subject form, and whom is the object form. Which means that if we're talking about someone who is the doer, then we say who. As in, the spy who loved me. As opposed to someone who is the doee, the object. As in, the spy whom I loved. You see, cause in this sentence, who is the subject. And in this sentence, I is the subject. Me is the object. And whom is the object. I loved whom? In this sentence, I am doing the loving. In this sentence it is the spy who is doing the loving. That's the basic rule. But, this does not adequately reflect the way our culture actually uses and has used whom or who for some time. In many cases it has become permissible to use who as an object. Let me show you what I mean. So the thing to remember is that the basic rule is a one way street. Because the way language is changing, whom is on its way out. I imagine in another 50, 75 years we won't be using it all. Is that sad? Sure, a little bit. I mean I'm sad that nobody every uses the pronoun whoso. As in, whoso pulleth this sword from this stone, is rightwise born king of England. We don't use that anymore. It's old fashioned. Now we say, whoever. And that's ok. So we know that the basic rule is that you use who as a subject and whom as an object. Well you can also now use who as an object. The only thing you can't do is whom is not a subject. That's the thing you need to remember, is that whom's use is not expanding. It is contracting. Who is taking over some of whom's duties. So let's go back to that spy example. So here are the four possible options, right? The spy who loved me, the spy whom loved me, the spy who I loved, and the spy whom I loved. Now of these, only this one is incorrect. Because we're trying to use whom as a subject. But here, the spy who I loved, where who is being an object, by the informal rules of our grammar today, this is fine. Either of these is fine. The only one that's not fine is this guy right here. The spy whom loved me. Because this language change is going in one direction. And it's in the direction of whom being used less often. So whom never expands from its original position. Who does. So the next time you're puzzling over what to do in the event of the sentence who are you talking to, and whether or not this pronoun here should be who or whom, it's really an issue of tone rather than correctness. Because both possibilities are equally understandable. Yes, technically if you wanted to be very correct you would say whom are you talking to, or you are talking to whom, because whom is the object of this preposition. It's to whom, and so therefore we would use the object form. But you find that when you separate it out in this question, when you put the to at the end, and the whom question particle at the beginning, this m just kind of falls away. Cause we're more likely to use whom when it's immediately preceded by a preposition. But otherwise, it's probably more likely gonna be who. Which is why it's not that big of a deal to say who are you talking to. It's not technically correct, but it's been used for so long that it's fine. You are talking to who is a little bit more formal of a construction, and therefore you would probably want to use whom. Saying you are talking to who is not as common. So in this wild swamp of rule breaking there is one hard grammar rule to pay attention to. And it's just never use whom as a subject. The role of whom in our constellation of pronouns is decreasing, not expanding. Who is taking over whom. And since who is the subject, whom is not moving into that space. Whom is the object pronoun, and you use it when you're feeling fancy. You can learn anything. David out.