When to use who and when to use whom have always frustrated me. I don’t always keep the usage rules and regulations for these two straight. I’m considering tattoos--one on each of my inner forearms. If I ink the definition of when to use who on my left arm and the definition of when to use whom on my right arm, my writing may improve. Plus, these tats might look hot. Or, umm, not.
Am I the only one who muddles who and whom? In case I am not the only one, and before I commit to the tattoos, let’s go over the usage. Who is used as the subject of a verb or complement of a linking verb (pardon my yawns). As in: Cynthia was the one who threw her laptop out the window. Most reference sources recommend pinpointing the subject for each verb to help figure out whether to use who or whom. In the sentence above, frustrated Cynthia threw her laptop, so who coordinates with the subject and is therefore correct. Who threw her laptop out the window? Ah, yes, wicked Cynthia threw her laptop out the window.
Whom is used as the object of the verb or the object of a preposition (I’m yawning again, sorry). Cynthia asked whom to fix her shattered laptop? Here, the subject and verb are Cynthia asked. The pronoun following the verb is the object of the verb, which means that whom is correct.
Do you have this memorized? No? Then you’re relating to my dilemma. But before you decide on grammar definitions as forearm tats, try this handy trick from Writer’s Digest: If the subject can be replaced with he or she, use who; if the subject can be replaced with him or her, use whom. Note: sometimes you may need to play with the sentence to make this work. For example, Cynthia was the one who threw her laptop out the window might be She threw her laptop out the window. Once you see that she best replaces Cynthia, you know that who and not whom should be used in the sentence. Cynthia asked him/her to fix her shattered laptop? Illustrates that whom works better than who in this sentence about busted computers.
This bit of magic doesn’t always work, but it has saved my bacon on more than one occasion, so I’m holding off on the grammar tattoos. For now.