Who (pronoun)

From Academic Kids

Template:Wiktionarypar The pronoun who, in the English language, is the interrogative and relative pronoun that is used to refer to human beings and some animals perceived as sentient.

The corresponding interrogative pronouns for non-sentient beings are what and which, and the relative pronouns are that and which, though that and which are sometimes used in contexts where who might be a more suitable choice.

In etymology, it represents the expected outcome of Old English hwâ. It is cognate with Latin quis and Greek ποιος.

Case forms

Traditionally, who has the case forms whose, representing the genitive case, and whom, both the accusative and the dative case. See also declension in English.

Whom is obsolescent in colloquial English. Formal Queen's English grammar prescribes that "who" is a subjective pronoun, and that "whom" is the corresponding objective pronoun. However, in informal English (and increasingly more so in some formal situations as well, especially in American English), "whom" is dying in most dialects; "who" has become far more common than "whom" for both subject and object forms. The attempt by prescriptive grammarians to preserve and foster the use of whom has sometimes led to hypercorrection, such as in the following sentence:

  • Whom shall I say is calling?

Rules for determining who vs. whom

To determine whether who or whom should be used in a sentence, recast the sentence in non-interrogative form and determine whether you would use he or she (nominatives) or him or her (accusatives and datives) instead of who or whom. For this sentence, this yields:

  • I shall say she is calling.
  • *I shall say her is calling.

Since the latter sentence is a solecism, this sentence calls for who rather than whom. But:

  • Whom did you call


  • *You called she.
  • You called her.

indicating that whom is appropriate for this question.

Basically, whom is used whenever there is no verb to be in an inflected form referring to it. Thus:

  • He was the man whom we later learnt to be a constable.
  • He was the man who we later learnt was a constable.
  • He was the man whom we thought a constable.
  • Whom will you give this? (will refers to you, not whom) (this sentence may sound somewhat old fashioned because in it, whom directly represents the dative case; perhaps the following forms might be preferred: "Whom will you give this to?", or "To whom will you give this?")
  • Who will come?

Also, whom is the form used whenever there are prepositions involved, since these always take the dative or accusative case:

  • To whom have you been talking?
  • For whom have you taken these marvellous photographs?
  • With whom are you going to the cinema?
  • We have been discussing plans with them, of whom we have grown rather fond these days.
  • We have been discussing plans with them, whom we have grown rather fond of these days.

The same rule applies to declined pronouns whomever and whomsoever.

Especially when placing the preposition at the end of a sentence, whom is often replaced with who, even in more than informal, hence including written, English:

  • To whom do I owe this? = Whom do I owe this to? = Whom do I owe this?
    • Who do I owe this to?

See also: Split infinitive


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