The British statesman and writer, Lord Chesterfield in Letters to His Son wrote, “There is a Spanish proverb, which says very justly, Tell me whom you live with, and I will tell you who you are”. That was an interesting play on the relative pronouns ‘whom’ and ‘who’ there by Lord Chesterfield. It is imperative to know the Correct Use of Who vs Whom and Whose vs Who’s and this post addresses just that.
The great Roman orator and statesman, Cicero quoting Cassius Longinus, a conspirator against Caesar asked, To whose profit? It is not only Who and whom that cause lots of problems for users of English; Whose and Who’s equally cause confusion for some people; hence the need to examine both words.
Who vs Whom
Both are relative and interrogative pronouns. Who is the subject of a verb, and a reference to a person (subject pronoun) as we have in:
- Who is that person?
- It was you who told her.
- Who are you looking for?
- The girls who took part in the play are here.
- Who is the owner of this car?
- Who told you?
Whom is the object of a verb or preposition, a reference to him or her (object pronoun) as in:
- Whom did he tell?
- The people from whom he stole will press charges.
- They wish to know for whom the bells toll
- To whom did you speak?
- Give it to whom he chooses.
- People whom you never thought would sympathize came around.
In modern usage, especially in British English, ‘whom’ is coming into disuse, especially in everyday speech especially in questions, except in formal contexts as some careful writers still prefer. Who is used instead even though it is ungrammatical, as in:
- Who did you speak to?
- I know who I believe
‘Whom’ is omitted when it is associated with a preposition, as in:
- The man I was talking to has left.
- The man to whom I was talking has left.
Whom should be retained when it is a relative pronoun, as in:
- The man whom you saw has driven off.
- The person to whom he spoke came around this morning.
- Little Dora, to whom she gave the book, was full of joy.
Whose and Who’s
There is a tendency to confuse these two words. They sound alike but they have different meanings. Whose means ‘of whom’ or ‘of which’ and represents possession or association, as in:
- The woman whose child won is happy.
- The boy whose leg was broken has recovered
- Whose bicycle is that?
- The firm whose staff went on strike recorded a huge profit.
- The children whose father we met are in the room.
- We saw a car whose paintwork had been damaged.
Some people have aversion to the use of ‘whose’ to mean “of which,” but it is a well-established use.
Who’s is a contraction or shortened form of ‘who is’ or ‘who has’, as in:
- Who’s there?
- The friend who’s coming to dinner next week called to cancel.
- Who’s got my pen?
- Anyone who’s first in the queue will get extra.
- Who’s coming to town?
- Who’s responsible for the chaos?
Remember our Spanish proverb and make sure you let me know whom you plan to share this post with so that I can you who you are! There are other closely related words that confuse users of English and I have written on some of them and plan to write more on others. Check out these: