Who vs. Whom

I had a couple of great English teachers in high school, one of whom was Miss Latham. Miss Alfrava Latham. She was a character.  She hand-made her clothes, wore black patent leather shoes with a square silver buckle that looked like something a Pilgrim would wear and loved to read cookbooks. She was also a tough, tough teacher.

Tough, but clear. She always had little tricks for us to remember some of the more difficult rules of grammar. One that I use to this day is one that helps me tackle the who vs. whom problem.

There’s an easy way to remember when you should use either word. Ask yourself if you could hypothetically answer your question with him. Let me give you an example:

Who/Whom should we invite to the study group? Since you could hypothetically answer the question with, “We should invite him,” whom would be the correct word choice.

Who/Whom is invited to the study group? The answer to this question is, “He is going to the study group,” not, “Him is going to the study group,” so the correct word choice is who.

Need an even easier way to remember which is correct? Whom and him end in m. If you can answer the question with him, you know the correct word choice is whom.

If you must know the reason this trick works, it’s because the answer you give to the above-type questions helps you determine whether the pronoun refers to an object. Him is an object pronoun. Think of yourself pointing out the person (him) as though he was an object. If you can’t do that, then who is correct.

I don’t know what’s happened with Miss Latham since my high school days, but I do know that what she taught me stuck with me.

If this post has helped you, give a little look skyward and say a quick, “Thank you,” to Miss Latham.



Does it breathe? That vs. Who

You know the sound fingernails make when scratched across a blackboard? Makes you cringe, doesn’t it? Well, it doesn’t make me cringe. What makes me cringe is when people, authors and journalists especially, misuse words when they really should know better.

When I’m editing, one of the first things I do is take out my list. I have a list of words and phrases that are most often misused, and I do a search-and-replace on every manuscript before I do the first read-through. If I didn’t, my eyeballs would be permanently focused on the back of my head.

I just don’t understand how writers can make such simple errors time and again. What’s worse is that I can’t believe the mistakes get past editing.

My current head-shaker is the use of “that” when “who” is obviously the correct word.

Turn on any show and listen to what the characters are saying. How many times does the script call for the actor to say something like: “Anyone that does that is crazy.” Anyone ‘that’. That? No. Who. Anyone ‘who’. Gawdalmighty, someone please grab hold of the nearest scriptwriter and shake him. I’m way past tired of hearing that mistake on television. I curse the characters now, and it’s getting a little embarrassing.

Listen to the news. How many times do you hear anchors talk about people “that” have done something? Even my beloved Anderson Cooper has made the error. I could only shake my head and turn away. For shame, Andy. For shame.

Read the news, books, journals. You’ll find the error everywhere. Really. You will.

Which brings me back to why I’m writing this rant in the first place. I want to help you not make this mistake. I want to help you make your editor just a bit happier with you than she is with every other writer whose work crosses her desk.

I’m going to give you a simple tool to remember which word is applicable. It’s easy. Just ask yourself if the object being referred to can breathe. If it can, use ‘who’. Whether the word is a name, title, pronoun, the correct word is ‘who’.

“Pets who are spayed have a better chance at a healthy life.”

“Presidents who listen to their citizenry and act accordingly do better in polls.”

“Writers who think as they write make editors very happy.”

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Copyright © 2010 Diane Faulkner.  All rights reserved worldwide, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.

Reproduction or transmission of any part of this work by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, beyond that permitted by Copyright Law, without the express permission of the author, is prohibited.

Text:  Copyright © 2010 Diane Faulkner.  All rights reserved worldwide.  Crabby Copy Editor™ and related trademarks appearing on this website are the property of Diane Faulkner.

Photo:  Copyright © 2010 Devany Vickery-Davidson.  All rights reserved worldwide.  Used with permission.