Grammar Guy: The temple of whom

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Curtis Honeycutt

Today I want to tackle another tricky grammar bugaboo. It’s one of those confusing quandaries I simply avoid using because I don’t want to sound dumb. I’m talking about “who” and “whom.”

Every time I’m tempted to use “whom”, I’m afraid of sounding like I own a fancy, private helicopter to travel to my private island where I roll around in gold coins, Scrooge McDuck-style. It just kind of sounds snooty. So let’s learn how to use it correctly, shall we?

I have an easy way to remember when to use “who” or “whom”: Use “who” when you can replace it in a sentence with “he”; use “whom” when you can replace it in a sentence with “him”. For example: “ ‘Who/Whom’ tried to parachute out of my private helicopter?” Bad idea, dude.

Let’s try replacing “who/whom” with “him.” “ ‘Him’ tried to parachute out of my private helicopter.” That doesn’t sound right. How about “he”: “ ‘He’ tried to parachute out of my private helicopter.” That sounds better, so we should use “who” in this sentence.

Another example: “To ‘who/whom’ did you invite over to your secret island bungalow this weekend?” Which sounds right: “I invited ‘he’ over to my secret island bungalow this weekend” -or- “I invited ‘him’ to my secret island bungalow this weekend.” “Him” sounds better, so we should use “whom” in this example.

“He/him” is simply a secret, tricky way to determine the subject and object of a sentence. The subject is the person (or place or thing) doing the action in a sentence. The object is the person (or place or thing) on the receiving end of the action. “To ‘whom’ (object) did Gary (subject) direct his cheesy pick-up lines?” Since we usually don’t think in terms of subject and object, I think it’s simpler to use the he/him trick.

In my opinion, going around using “whom” properly probably makes people assume you have an entire closet just for your polo ascots, but I always enjoy a rollicking, post-brunch polo match on the beach of my exclusive pretend island.

— Curtis Honeycutt is a nationally syndicated humor columnist. Connect with him on Twitter (@curtishoneycutt) or at curtishoneycutt.com.