Copy Editor’s Corner | Who vs. Whom

Copy Editor’s Corner | Who vs. Whom

If you want to strike up a spirited debate at your next happy hour, try correcting someone who uses who instead of whom.

Some will ask, “Is whom ever right?” Yes, but it is used so rarely nowadays that few people understand when it is actually appropriate. And even when used appropriately, it can come across as stuffy.

Copy editors and doctors share a common oath: First, do no harm. If we do decide to change who to whom, we have to be 100 percent sure we’re not inserting an error instead of fixing one.

To simplify the matter as much as possible, who is a subjective pronoun, and whom is an objective pronoun, meaning who would be used to refer to a he or she and whom to him or her.

While not an exact science, that m at the end of both whom and him serves as a helpful guide.

For example, you would use whom here: “Whom do you like better?” because an answer could be “I like him better.” Conversely, the answer to “Who wants to go to the fair?” would be “He wants to go to the fair,” so you know who is correct.

Alison Dotson