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In a recent blog post, Dictionary.com wrote an article on the English pronoun whom. The post is entitled Whom or who?, and speaks to the correct usage of whom as well as the differences between whom and who.

If you don’t know or don’t remember the difference between whom and who, it is the same difference as between he and him. In grammatical terms, he and who are subjective-case pronouns, while him and whom are objective-case pronouns.

What are subjective-case and objective-case? The subjective-case noun, also known as the subject noun in a sentence, is the noun that performs the action. And likewise, the objective-case noun, or the object noun in a sentence, is the noun that receives the action. So, in the example of “The dog bit the ball”, the dog is the subject noun and the ball is the object noun. The same holds true for pronouns. In the example of “I hit him”, I is the subject pronoun and him is the object pronoun.

(Why then did I use the phrase “subjective-case” and “objective-case”? What exactly is a case? I’ll explain that below in the postscript, or PS section.)

So coming back to who and whom, and using the second example sentence from above, I could replace I and him with who and whom. I would then have the sentence, “Who hit whom?” I hope that explains the difference between when to use who, and when to use whom.

In the Dictionary.com post, the author begins the article by stating that whom is dying out; its use has dropped in half twice over in the past 200 years:

Over the past 200 years written use of the pronoun whom has declined by half, and half again over the last 50. It makes sense. In the colloquial world of email and texting, thinking about the correct usage of whom can just slow writers down. The word can make sentences sound more formal, but if used incorrectly whom makes a speaker sound insincere when they’re trying to sound smart. So, why not delete whom from the dictionary entirely?

I, personally, beg to differ. I think that whom is still used, and used correctly, by a fair amount of English speakers. I’m not sure where the article’s author found his/her information and perhaps there are statistics that show written use of whom having declined by half twice over in the past 200 years.

But I don’t think that the colloquial world of email and texting should make for a strong argument in favour of nixing a word. In this same colloquial world abbreviations like lol and brb are regularly used. Yet I’m certain most lay speakers of English would not desire these abbreviations to make it into the dictionary. Nor the appropriation of the number two, 2, as a synonym for the word to just on the basis that they are homonyms.

I myself use the pronoun whom on a regular basis. I try to use who and whom correctly. And I think I succeed most of the time. It is true that sometimes I become confused, and am mentally analyzing which pronoun I should use. Other times I will continue the mental analysis even after I have spoken or written the sentence!

What about you? Before reading this article, did you know the correct usage of whom? Did you make an effort to try and use who and whom correctly? And if you learned the differences from reading this post, will you now try and use each pronoun correctly? Do you agree with the Dictionary.com article that whom is a dying pronoun, and that because of colloquial usage habits should be removed from the dictionary?

PS. As mentioned above, I will explain a little bit about grammatical case. Linguists use the term case to refer to the function of a noun in a sentence. It is perhaps akin to the concept of tense with verbs. In English we use words or phrases like subjectobject, and indirect object to classify nouns based on their function and position in a sentence. In linguistic terms, however, these are called cases. So you would have, in English, the subject case, the object case, and the indirect object case. There is more to it, which I will elaborate on in another post.

PPS. To be fair to the author of the article Whom or who?, the main point of the post is to explain the differences between whom and who. Therefore, the author is not actually in agreement with the part of the post I quoted above. In fact, the part I quoted is most of the first paragraph, which the author uses as a jumping off point to then explain the correct usage of whom. I intentionally quoted only the section that I did for the purposes of this post.

DH

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