October 24, 2016

The rules of grammar can seem complicated and rigid, but they will help you keep your writing clear and tell a story effectively. When the language is muddled, readers may get confused and have trouble understanding your story. Even worse, they may quit reading.

Here’s some help when you are unsure whether to use who or whom in a sentence.

The rule: Who is the subject or subject complement in a sentence. Whom is an object.

The shortcut: If you would use he or she in the sentence, it’s who. If him or her would work, use whom.

For example:

  • She married Al, whom her mother hated. (Her mother hated him.)
  • My mother, whom you’ve met, turned 70 last week. (You’ve met her.)
  • The baker, who likes my mom, created a beautiful cake. (She likes my mom.)
  • The man, who police say robbed three convenience stores over the weekend, was arrested Tuesday. (He robbed three stores.)

One caution: While whom may be correct in a sentence, it may make your writing sound fussy or could distract your readers. “Who should you call?” is incorrect, but to use “Whom should you call?” creates a momentary break in focus for many readers. More important than knowing the rule is knowing your readers. Your greater goal is to have them read, and understand, your story.

Taken from Cleaning Your Copy: Grammar, Style and More, a self-directed course at Poynter NewsU.

Take the full course

Have you missed a Coffee Break Course? Here’s our complete lineup.

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
Vicki Krueger has worked with The Poynter Institute for more than 20 years in roles from editor to director of interactive learning and her current…
Vicki Krueger

More News

Back to News