How To Use Who vs Whom Correctly

How To Use Who vs Whom Correctly

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The correct use of ‘Who’ and ‘Whom’ is maybe one of the most ignored grammar practice that exists. Most people simply use ‘Who’ for all situations. And most people assume ‘Whom’ is only used in more formal situations. In this post, we will go through a more nuanced explanation of the correct use of ‘Who’ and ‘Whom’. We’ll go through some examples with Bahasa Melayu translations for more clarity.

As with the rest of the world, Malaysians are not excluded from this common grammar error. However, the correct use of ‘Who’ and ‘Whom’ is apparent in our older generation who were taught using the English Language medium. That shows that the correct use of ‘Who’ and ‘Whom’ is not a secret but merely takes effect by practice.

Once in a while, we might hear a person use ‘Whom’ correctly and we think the person is more polished in their communication. If we knew how easy it was to discern the difference between ‘Who’ and ‘Whom’, we won’t need to second guess ourselves at all. Continue to read below to see how simple it is to know when to use ‘Who’ and ‘Whom’.

Two Easy Ways To Know

If you searched around the web about ‘Who’ vs ‘Whom’, you would find that these pronouns are used to refer to Object (Who) and Subject (Whom). This description might seem technical and will be clearer when you go through the examples. For the purpose of ease of understanding, two easy ways to identify when to use ‘Whom’ are:

  1. After a preposition.
  2. When referring to a pronoun whom received something.

The above method is as shown in my book, The Janitor’s Elysium – Grammar Errors Begone!, available for purchase here. In the book, the explanation is concise and more elaborate within the story. More examples are provided in this blog post to zoom in on ‘Who’ vs ‘Whom’. Also for the purpose of better understanding, the examples below would follow with its translation in Bahasa Melayu.

How To Use Whom – The Focus is On The Object

The use of ‘Whom’ is often avoided because people think it makes no difference to the meaning of their sentence. In this example, we will see that the use of ‘Whom’ amplifies the Object (verb) in our sentence. Observe the conversation below.

Mom: Whom are you talking with now?
Me: I am just talking with her for a while. I’ll do the dishes now.
Mak: Bersembang dengan siapa ni?
Saya: Bersembang sekejap ja dengan dia. Saya pergi cuci pinggan sekarang.


Notice how the use of ‘Whom’ shows that Mom was more concerned about the time spent talking rather than about who she was talking with.

The use of ‘Whom’ is often limited as a formal law jargon that we encounter in contracts. Little do we know that the use of ‘whom’ helps direct the focus of our communication. In this example, we will see that the use of ‘Whom’ amplifies the Recipient as an Object in our sentence. The definition of a Recipient is a person who gets something done for them by another person.

Florist: Whom shall I send these flowers to?
Customer: Here’s the address.
Penggubah bunga: Bunga ini mahu dihantar kepada siapa?
Pelanggan: Ini alamatnya.

Notice how the use of ‘Whom’ shows the florist was more concerned about where the flowers should be sent and not really about the individual the flowers were for.

How To Use ‘Who’ – The Focus is On The Subject

The use of ‘Who’ as a blanket pronoun for ‘Who’ vs ‘Whom’ is popular because people think it makes no difference to the meaning of their sentence. In this example, we will see how the use of ‘Who’ amplifies the Subject in our sentence. Observe the conversation below.

Mom: Who is talking to you?
Me: It’s Becky. She needs help with her homework.
Mak: Bersembang dengan siapa ni?
Saya: Bersembang dengan Becky. Dia perlukan bantuan untuk siapkan kerja sekolah.

Notice the use of ‘Who’ shows that Mom was concerned about the Subject. Although the Bahasa Melayu translation is the same as the example for ‘Whom’ above, the answer that is expected is about the person you are speaking to. And not about the activity (talking) per se. Let’s observe another example.

Florist: Who are these flowers for?
Customer: My mother.
Penggubah bunga: Bunga ini untuk siapa?
Pelanggan: Ibu saya.

Notice that the use of ‘Who’ in the example above shows that the florist is keen about who the flowers are for. Also when comparing the Bahasa Melayu translation with the example from ‘Whom’, the translation doesn’t ask anything about where the flowers should be delivered. It is clear here that the florist’s question is about the Subject.

Conclusion

The use of ‘Whom’ may sound formal or outdated but its use makes a huge difference to the answer you expect to receive from your question. That’s to say that the use of ‘Whom’ is relevant and should be a common practice. Not only would you sound more polished with your communication, but you also invoke the correct response through your question.

Having said that, although using ‘Who’ vs ‘Whom’ correctly can’t 100% ensure you receive the correct feedback, it certainly assures you that it is a difference worth knowing. Coincidentally, if you’re wondering the difference between ‘Ensure’ vs ‘Assure’ you can check out the blog post here.

Now I’m curious to know if there are any other words or grammar concepts that you find confusing. Let me know in the Comment section below, or you may hit ‘Reply’ if you subscribe to the Baini Mustafa Weekly Email. If you would like to receive weekly updates that I don’t share anywhere else directly to your Inbox, you may subscribe to my weekly email here.

Until then, don’t be afraid to practise communicating effectively using precise English grammar. The thoughts in your head are only as good when they’re out there for the world to understand.

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