Nothing grinds my gears more than the misuse of whom. Without getting too deep into the drama of descriptive and prescriptive grammar, I’ll say that formally whom is the objective form and who is the subjective form. Now, there are times where using one or the other can get sticky and confusing, and that’s understandable. Consider the following sentence:
Did she go to the amusement park with the one who sold salt-water taffy, baskets, and puppies in Las Vegas?
It’s tricky here because “the one” is the object, but the object is being modified by a separate clause. Think about solving this by recognizing that “who sold salt-water taffy, baskets, and puppies in Las Vegas” is a relative clause that is modifying “one.” It thus becomes an adjective clause itself and who, not whom, is required.
There are times when who and whom can get tricky, and that’s all well and good and fine and I’m okay with that. There is no grammar force above that is telling you that you have to know whom in the first place. The whole concept is virtually becoming archaic, anyway. The only people who use whom anymore are individuals that simply know the rule, care about grammar, work in professional fields like law or secretarial positions, are trying to sound presumptuous and know the rule, or—the worst kinds of individuals, mind you—who are trying to sound presumptuous and DON’T know the rule.
These last people are outright terrible. Nothing screams
“I’M TRYING TO BE PRESUMPTUOUS, BUT I’M NOT ACTUALLY THAT INTELLIGENT”
like people who misuse whom. And you might say, “But Chelsea, aren’t you being hard on people?” Maybe I am, but what I have to say in response to that is what I have already stated above: whom is becoming archaic. No one expects people in the general population to use it anymore. In an extreme and dramatic example, it’s kind of like the word “thou” or “thee.” No one expects you to say: “How art thou on this fine day?” Just like most don’t expect you to say, “With whom were you speaking?” Both are perfectly correct and they convey point and purpose, but you just don’t have to do it. Yeah, it’s great if you know it, and that’s great, really great. Heck, I even use thou sometimes, like when I’m doing my Shakespeare accent. I even use whom sometimes, but only when I am confident about the correct tense. That’s not me being presumptuous though, it’s just me being grammatically correct.
The source of my frustration at this point is a student paper that I was required to read for a class not in the English Department. As I was reading this paper, I kept finding terrible whom mistakes in it. Here are a few examples of them:
“They found that students whom indicated a general lack of control over…”
“A college student whom drinks could easily develop an alcohol…”
“This study also suggests for our project that our greatest outreach and target audience should be those students whom live in co-ed dorms.”
Rolling my eyes. This individual shows a clear lack of understanding of the concept of who and whom. He or she should just have avoided using it altogether. It is clear the writer is trying to sound austere and high-brow, but his or her general lack of understanding makes the whole attempt futile and even reveals, at least how I see it, a characteristic of wanting to be arrogant.
Moral of the story? If you are going to use whom—again, which you do not have to do in the first place—then please, for the love of the grammar gods, use it correctly. It saves you from being thought pretentious and ignorant. But, if you want to be pretentious, you might as well be intelligent about it and use grammar correctly.
From the book Grammar Snobs are Great Big Meanies, here is one final helpful excerpt about who vs. whom that might help you avoid making the mistake:
Whenever you’re wondering whether some blowhard is using ‘who’ or ‘whom’ right, plug in just about any other pronoun: I/me, she/her, he/him, we/us. For, ‘With whom are you going to the concert?’ ask yourself, would you say, ‘With he,’ or ‘With him’? For ‘Who is the best grammar-snob slayer of them all?’ ask yourself if it would be better to say, ‘Him is the best grammar-snob slayer of them all,’ or ‘He is the best grammar-snob slayer.’ It’s just that simple. (8)
That’s the basics. For more tips, Google is one url away. My rant is over. Please use whom right or not at all. Much thanks. Have a good day.
Casagrande, June. Grammar Snobs are Great Big Meanies. New York: Penguin Books, 2006. Print.