Who or Whom?

ClipartOf.comWHO! WHO!

Last week at Writing Center Underground, we covered pronoun case. This week, we’ll cover one of the most common misunderstandings when using pronouns: the correct use of “who” and “whom.” To understand the difference, we first need to understand the difference between a subject and an object. Let’s review:

The subject of the sentence is the person, place, or thing doing something. It’s the word that performs the action of the verb.

The dog barked at the cat.
The steak tastes great.
John finished the race in record time.

The object of the sentence is the receiver of the action and usually follows the verb.
The workers painted the barn.
The boys threw rocks.
Steve dropped his new phone.

Who & Whom Questions


To determine if you would use who at the beginning of a question, answer the question using a personal pronoun. If the answer is in the subjective case, use who.

Ex: Who painted the barn?
They painted the barn; they is subjective (the subject) thus, who is correct.

Ex: Who threw the rocks?
He threw the rocks; he is subjective, thus, who is correct.

Ex: Who dropped his new phone?
He dropped his new phone; he is subjective, thus, who is correct.

Quick tip: Who acts just as I, he, she, they and we do in a sentence. These pronouns can only be used as the subject of a sentence.


To determine if you would use whom at the beginning of a question, answer the question using a personal pronoun. If the answer is in the objective case, use whom.

Ex: Whom did you marry?
I married her; her is objective, thus whom is correct.

Ex: Whom did the instructor want to work with?
The instructor wanted to work with him; him is objective, thus whom is correct.

Ex: Whom will the new law benefit?
The new law will benefit them; them is objective, thus whom is correct.

Quick tip: Whom acts just as the pronouns me, him, her, and them. These pronouns can only be used as the object of a sentence.

Who or Whom in Dependent Clauses

In more complex sentences, it doesn’t matter how the dependent clause functions in the whole sentence, only how it functions in the clause. The pronoun case in a dependent clause is determined solely by its function in the clause.

Ex: The new nanny was not whom they had hoped.

Let’s break this example down. Whom is the object of the dependent clause “whom they had hoped,” even though the clause is the complement of was (the verb); thus, the pronoun should be the objective case, or whom.

Ex: She is a strong leader whom people either love or hate.
In this example, whom is the object of the verbs love and hate. Even though the clause is the complement of the verb is, the pronoun should be objective case, or whom.

Final thoughts

Once you are able to identify the subject and object of a sentence, the decision whether to use “who” or “whom” will come more easily.

Now you try!

Insert who or whom in the following examples.

1.    ____ shall I say is calling?

2.    She shared the secret with those ____ she trusted.

3.    The only people ____ they can recommend are the two experts.

4.    The prize goes to the runner ____ collects the most points.

5.    David feels like a king ____ receives special treatment.


(answers: 1= who; 2 = whom; 3 = whom; 4 = whom; 5 = who)




A Brief Case for Pronouns

Pronoun case refers to the form a pronoun takes according to its function in a sentence. To review, a pronoun takes the place of a noun, such as I, you, he she, and it. Personal pronouns have three cases: subjective, objective, and possessive. A subjective pronoun means the pronoun acts as a subject of a clause – either an independent or dependent clause. A possessive pronoun shows possession of something. An objective pronoun refers to a pronoun which acts as the object of the preposition, or is the recipient of action.

Subjective Pronouns:

I/we                 you                 he/she/it                     they                who/whoever

Possessive Pronouns:

my/our                        your                his/hers/its                 their                whose            mine/ours                  yours              his/hers/its                 theirs             

Objective Pronouns:

me/us             you                 him/her/it                   them               whom/whomever

In most instances, pronoun case is quite simple. Sometimes, however, it can be a bit confusing if we can’t easily identify its function in a sentence. Let’s take a look at some examples below of the three different pronoun cases and how you would use each.

Use subjective case when it is the subject of a clause:

They could either keep playing or forfeit the game.
He didn’t clock in at work this morning.
Whoever said that was mistaken.

Use possessive case when it shows possession. Note that there are two forms of possessive pronouns: noun forms and adjective forms.

Noun form:

The fault is his.
Whose car is that red corvette?

Adjective form:

The girls bought their tickets the moments they went on sale.
The sound of her cries woke the mother.

The use of objective case gets a little more complicated, as there are different types of objects. Use objective case when the pronoun functions as a direct or indirect object. You will also use objective if the pronoun is a subject of an infinitive, an appositive renaming an object, or the object of a preposition (see explanations of these terms below).

If the pronoun is an object of verb:

The director surprised us with roses. (“Us” is the direct object of “surprised”)
The doctor gave me a clean bill of health. (“Me” is the indirect object of “gave”)

If the pronoun is a subject of an infinitive:

The players convinced him to continue coaching. (The pronoun him is preceded by a verb, and followed by the infinitive, to continue)

If the pronoun is an appositive renaming an object: (an appositive is a noun or noun phrase that adds identifying info to a preceding noun)

The football team elected two captains, Josh and me.

If the pronoun is an object of a preposition:

Can you give the bill to her?
Several of his colleagues invited him to golf.


I or Me?

Whether to use I or me is a common cause for confusion. To simplify, remove the noun to see what makes sense:

Tina and me worked until midnight.
Omit Tina and:     Me worked until midnight. 

Obviously, you wouldn’t say “Me worked. . .” so the pronoun case would be “I”:

Tina and I worked until midnight.

Quite often, we think we’re using the correct case by using the more formal sounding “I” when “me” is actually correct:

Incorrect: John gave the flowers to Alice and I.  

Remove “Alice” in the above example to check if “I” is correct: John gave the flowers to I.  

That doesn’t sound right, does it?

Correct: John gave the flowers to Alice and me.

Choosing the correct pronoun case with comparisons can be problematic, but by adding back in the omitted words, you will easily know which pronoun is correct.

She is smarter than I (am smart). You wouldn’t say “- than me am smart.”
He is as short as I (am short). You wouldn’t say “- as me am short.”
That works for you as much as (it works for) me. You wouldn’t say “- it works for I.”

Final Thoughts

All of this may sound quite complicated, but if you can identify the parts of a sentence, including subjects, verbs, objects, independent and dependent clauses, and prepositions, you’ll easily be able to choose the correct pronoun case.

More practice 

1.  My sister enjoys taking me to museums. ____ and I go often.

2.  She knows more about art than ____.

3.  Her friend Hector is a painter. Hector always shows his paintings to her and ____.

 4.  My sister wants to go to art school. Hector and ____ think that’s a great idea.

 5.  She is more likely to listen to him than ____.
[Answers: 1= She; 2= I; 3= me; 4= I; 5= Me]
Some information and examples from Bedford St. Martin’s Handbook and Purdue Owl.

Next week: More on Pronoun Case = Who & Whom.

Works Cited: Common Questions Explained

As we near the end of our fall term here at Metropolitan Community College, students are visiting the Writing Centers with lots of MLA questions, especially Works Cited questions. Below we’ve compiled a list of the most common student questions related to Works Cited pages, and attempted to clarify what many students find to be the most complicated and perplexing part of the research writing process.

Q  Where do I put the URL in the Works Cited entry?

A  The newest guidelines from the 7th edition of the MLA (Modern Language Association) Handbook have removed the URL from web sources. Now writers will include the medium of publication. For web sources you would simply add “Web” at the end of the entry in place of the URL. Book and other types of print medium, such as newspapers or journals, will add “Print.” Other common sources may be Film or DVD. However, ALWAYS follow instructor guidelines, as many still require the inclusion of URLs.

My source doesn’t have an author. Should I list it as “Anonymous”?

It’s actually quite common for web sources not to list an author. If the author of the source is unknown, list the source by the first word in the title, disregarding A, An, or The. So as you alphabetize the entries, you would alphabetize by the first word in the title. If the title is more than a few words, use a shortened version of the title in the in-text citation.

My instructor says I need to use a “hanging indent” on my Works Cited page.  What exactly is a hanging indent?

A hanging indent is exactly the opposite of a traditional indent. Instead of indenting the first line, with all subsequent lines flush left, the first line of the entry will be flush left, with all subsequent lines indented, regardless of number. The reason for a hanging indent on a Works Cited page is so a reader can easily find the source’s name or title while scanning the Works Cited page.

To easily format for a hanging indent in MS Word, under the “Home” tab, click on the “Paragraph” arrow to open; on the right of the box, you should see “Special” with “none” as the default. Click the arrow beside “none” and “Hanging” should be the last item. If you format the hanging indent before you enter your sources, it will automatically create a hanging indent for each entry.

Q  I have several quotes by the same author but from different texts. How do I account for this on my Works Cited?

When conducting research, it’s common to find several different articles by the same expert. On your Works Cited, give the author’s name in the first entry only. Every entry after the first one with the full name, type three hyphens, which stand for the name in the preceding entry.  The three hyphens, like the name, will be followed by a period. Alphabetize all entries by title.

I placed quotation marks around the title of the book I referenced, but the instructor said it should be italicized. I then italicized the title of a journal article, but was told that’s incorrect too! Which is it?

This is one of the most confusing rules for most students. If you can just remember that small works – for instance, chapter titles in anthologies – are placed in quotation marks; larger works – like a book or journal – are italicized. So, for instance, the article, “Five Fallacies of Education,” will be in quotation marks, and the journal, Harvard Review will be in italics. A newspaper article will be in quotation marks, and the name of the newspaper italicized. It gets more complicated with websites, but just remember the smaller work is placed in quotations and the larger work in italics.

Other directives from the MLA Handbook:

Italics: books, plays, poems published as books, pamphlets, newspapers, magazines, journals, web sites, online databases, films, television and radio broadcasts, CDs, albums.

Quotation Marks: articles, essays, stories or poems published within larger works, book chapters, pages in web sites, and individual episodes of television and radio broadcasts.

 (for a complete list, see MLA Handbook for writers of Research Papers 7th Edition)

My instructor said it was okay to interview my supervisor as one of my sources. How would I cite my interview?

If you have conducted the interview, begin the entry with the name of the person you have interviewed, the kind of interview, whether it was a Personal interview, Telephone interview, or E-mail interview, and conclude with the date the interview took place.

Ex.:     Karr, John. Personal interview. 14 Oct. 2013.

Final Thoughts

Students often find Works Cited pages to be extremely overwhelming to understand.  Your handbook or Purdue Owl’s website are great resources to utilize as you work through the process. All you need to know is the type of medium you are using, so make sure you have identified the type of source correctly, whether it be a print journal, web site, or library database. It’s always best to compile your Works Cited manually, meaning avoid the automatic citation help in MS Word and NoodleTools Express, which will incorrectly format an entry if the writer fails to insert the correct information.

One last piece of advice: It’s much  easier to compile the Works Cited page as you go, as opposed to waiting until the paper is finished.  Creating the source list as you go will save time in the end, and you’ll have the citation right in front of you for the in-text citations.

To view a sample paper with a Works Cited page, visit Purdue Owl here:  MLA Sample Paper.