If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

"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).

Want to join the conversation?

  • aqualine seed style avatar for user William Janis
    The section of the video beginning at prompts four questions and a comment.

    1. Does ending a sentence with a preposition qualify as standard English grammar?
    2. Do we now accept a preposition at the end of a sentence as we now accept who as a valid substitute for whom?
    3. Is "To whom are you talking?" OK?
    4. Does the looming triumph of who over whom simply reflect preference though expanded daily usage?
    5. Perhaps, who versus whom ultimately does not matter IF the inherent reasoning behind a statement remains valid. Moving from whom to who seems not to be equivalent to arguing that 2+2=5.
    (13 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user trek
      1. I was taught that a dangling preposition is a no-no but apparently that was a misconception.
      2. There are times when a dangling preposition makes a sentence read a whole lot more smoothly than trying to eliminate it!
      3. Yes.
      4. Very likely since language shifts and evolves as people use it.
      5. Personally, I disagree with David on this one. I think that the use of whom should not go away since it allows instant differentiation between subject and object.
      (23 votes)
  • aqualine sapling style avatar for user Frenchy Starfire (I'm offiline so don't try anything funny XD)
    Is the word whoso still proper grammar or did it use to be proper grammar? I find it kind of interesting that David mentioned that because I read so many books written in the 1800s that I never knew why they used such strange language so what i am asking is the english that they speak in books proper language still or was it proper English then and not so much now?
    (3 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user David Rheinstrom
      Britney:
      Language changes, is the thing. Think about how much slang has changed in the last ten years, even, or the last fifty.

      If I went around saying, "Hey, man, that movie is outta sight," or "Wow, Britney, that essay you wrote was pretty keen," or "This scene is pretty groovy, but I've gotta make myself plenty scarce," you'd rightly recognize my language as being out-of-date.

      Imagine that, but on a broader scale, affecting not just adjectives and common expressions, but the very structure of language.

      There's nothing ungrammatical about whoso, as in whoso pulleth this sword from this stone is rightwise born the king of England. It's just out of style—what we'd call an archaism, on account of its being quite old.
      (22 votes)
  • ohnoes default style avatar for user Runner Bob
    Could you think of who and whom as informal and formal?
    (0 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Yulee Oh
    I'm still confused..
    (3 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      How about making this comparison (for when "who" and "whom" function as pronouns). If, instead of "who" or "whom", you were using "I" and "me", then "Who" is used where you would say "I", and "Whom" is used where you would use "me".
      Examples are needed:
      She gave a flower to me.
      Who gave a flower to whom?

      She drove her car into them.
      Who drove whose car into whom?
      (10 votes)
  • leafers sapling style avatar for user Iona Cost
    Something that I noticed before, if you identify as non-binary, people use they, theirs, their or them, because they is a gender neutral term, like I see a person on the other side of the field, I wonder what they are doing, and therefore they is not always plural.😏
    (4 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • blobby green style avatar for user soltes.maxineangelenee2020
    is it possible to be " To whom are you talking to"
    (2 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • female robot amelia style avatar for user Johanna
      You definitely used “whom” (instead of “who”) correctly in that sentence! Since you already put the “to” in its spot at the beginning, though, the sentence should just be “To whom are you talking?”
      (5 votes)
  • female robot grace style avatar for user Brelvi Sarina
    At , wouldn't it be "To whom are you talking to?" Instead of "Whom are you talking to?"
    (3 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • starky tree style avatar for user Sophie
    what age group is this for?
    (1 vote)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • blobby green style avatar for user Alexa Lara
    Is “To whom are you talking ?” Considered correct ?
    (2 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • area 52 yellow style avatar for user R-a-h-1 is a Turtleツ
    Wait, since when was whoso a word if anyone answers it would me good because I only know who and whom
    (1 vote)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user

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.