Business Writing Essentials

Who Whom

Until you're a famous writer or the boss at your company, you should follow the rules for using who and whom. It's better to play it safe than to gamble by using who all the time.

The expert who we hired arrived early.

Is who correct? Or should it be whom?

Most people have some knowledge about how to choose between who and whom. Few people have fond memories of having the rule pounded into them in school. We can improve the knowledge and soften the memories by using the IC-WaWa technique.

Step 1: Isolate the Clause (IC) that goes with the word who or whom. The rest of the sentence, without the clause, can usually stand alone as a complete sentence.

The expert [ who we hired ] arrived early.

Step 2: Substitute the word WaWa for the word who or whom.

The expert [ WaWa we hired ] arrived early.

Step 3: Re-arrange the words in the clause to make a sentence that directly states a fact.

The expert [ We hired WaWa. ] arrived early.

Step 4: If WaWa can be him or them, then WaWa is an object:

       use whom or whomever

If WaWa can be he or they, then WaWa is a subject:

       use who or whoever

Final result:

The expert [ We hired him. ] arrived early.

The expert whom we hired arrived early.

Sometimes the isolated clause is the entire sentence:

Who/Whom should we turn to for help? [We should turn to WaWa for help.]

Sometimes the remaining words don't create a complete sentence without introducing an extra word or placeholder:

Nobody knows who/whom will be chosen.

Nobody knows X.
X = [WaWa will be chosen.]

Similarly (but differently):

Nobody knows who/whom we will choose.

Nobody knows X.
X = [We will choose WaWa.]

The IC-WaWa technique takes effort and time. That's the bad news. The good news is that after doing this a few times, it will become easier and will take less time. Whether it becomes second nature is up to you.

Lesson: Who Whom
Module: Grammar
Course: Business Writing Essentials