A Helpful Way to Determine When Not to Use “Whom”

In another blog post we looked at the phrase “Whom shall I say is calling?” and learned that such use of whom is incorrect. The trick to knowing whether to use whom or who in these instances is to remove the subject-verb combination that immediately follows the pronoun. Don’t say “huh?” Let me show you.

With that famous phase, when you delete those words I mentioned (“shall I say”), you would get this:

  • “Whom is calling?”

You can always replace whom with him (object) or who with he (subject) to check if you are correct. Saying “him is calling” is not correct.

Watch what happens when I take out the subject-verb words in these sentences:

  • The police have captured the man whom they think robbed the bank.
  • The client hired the accountant whom she remembered was helpful.
  • He didn’t want to invite the woman, whom his friend had said was a bore.

Clearly, whom is wrong in these instances. That’s because the pronoun (whom) connects to the action of that person (robbed, not think, in the first example), not the action of the subject of the sentence (I tried to explain this in as simple a way as I can here, without getting too grammar techy). “The man … robbed the bank.” In other words, “He” robbed the bank (subject), not “him.”

What helps me in these cases is to group those words together in my head:

  • The man who robbed the bank.
  • The accountant who was helpful.
  • The woman who was a bore.

I hope this helps you understand whom better. I’ve been studying the advice of the grammar instructors who I feel know what they are talking about!

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    1. Beth, I’ve already run some posts on this, so just search in the search bar for “who and whom.” And there are lots of great posts online on various grammar sites that discuss the issue.

  1. I may need a little more help with some of my own use of ‘whom.’ I found this one in my own manuscript, and it looks okay, but isn’t easy to test:

    “Police were questioning the gang members, one of whom claimed they had no involvement.”

    The ‘whom’ here can’t be sensibly replaced with either ‘him’ or ‘he,’ but I suppose I could replace the ‘one of whom’ with ‘but one of them.’

    Another: “She seemed to spend all her waking hours pushing food at whomever was in reach of it.”

    I guess my confusion is with the singular/plural meanings.

    1. I deal with uncertainty by rewriting. Plus, it tames my tendency to wordiness.

      “Police were questioning the gang members. One claimed he had no involvement.”

      “She seemed to spend all her waking hours pushing food at anyone within reach.”

      (Clearly the chicken way out, but that’s my solution. And
      until I feel this who/whom things in my bones, I’m stickin’ to it.):)

    2. Curtis, both of your examples are preceded by prepositions: ‘of whom’, ‘at whomever’. Prepositions imply, amongst other things, action or movement towards someone or something and are followed by an object. Which of the following are correct? ‘This is a picture of I.’/’This is a picture of me.’? ‘Look at I!’/’Look at me!’

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