I found a lovely comic on how to correctly use ‘whom’ in a sentence, produced on The Oatmeal, who make quirky comics about anything and everything. Their grammar section, though small, is very handy (and also quite funny) and can be an interesting way to learn grammar. However, I would not recommend showing them to young children, as the content can be quite ambiguous.
You can check out the comic here. (I can’t just copy and paste the photo here since it’s not my work). If you cannot (or simply don’t want to) view the website/image, I have written it below, though there are not as many pretty pictures!
How and why to use whom in a sentence.
– The Oatmeal –
When using whom in a sentence, you first need to consider the following:
Are you referring to someone who is doing something, or referring to someone who is having something done to them?
Mr. Jenkins often likes to throw spiders at children.
In this case, Mr. Jenkins is the one throwing spiders. He’s the one doing something.
The children, however, are the victims of Mr. Jenkin’s INCREDIBLE ARACHNID FASTBALLS! They’re the ones having something done to them.
So, if you were to ask:
“To whom did Mr. Jenkins deliver a barrage of delightful little spiders?”, the answer would be the children, the people having something done to them, so you should use whom.
But, if you were to ask:
“Who showered the children in delightful little spiders?”, the answer would be Mr. Jenkins, the person doing something, so you should stick with who.
This method of determining who vs whom gets the job done, but it can be tricky to remember, especially in conversation. Fortunately, there’s a faster, simpler way to know when to use whom. And it requires 100% fewer spiders!
Simply answer your own question using he or him: he – who | him – whom.
Example 1: Who/Whom cooked these bald eagle sandwiches? I find them both delicious and patriotic!
‘Him cooked these tasty eaglewiches,’ – Sounds weird, right? Let’s try it with he: ‘He cooked these tasty eaglewiches,’ – he sounds better, so we should stick with who in this example.
Example 2: To Who/Whom did you give a flamethrower for Christmas?
‘I gave a flamethrower to he.’ | ‘I gave a flamethrower to him.’
Him sounds better, so we should use whom.
Example 3: With who/whom are you planning on shampooing these dirty koalas?
‘I plan on shampooing these koalas with him‘ – again, him sounds better, so we should use whom.
Example 4: Who/Whom did you invite to this FABULOUS Slip ‘n Slide ‘n Mayonnaise party?
‘I invited he.’ | ‘I invited him.’ – once again, him sounds better, so we should stick with whom in this example.
Easy, yes? The he/him mnemonic is actually just a shortcut to determining the subject and object of a sentence. The subject is the person, place, or thing that is doing something. The object is the person, place, or thing that something is being done to. Subjects and objects aren’t something most English speakers readily think about, however, so I find it’s easier to just use the mnemonic.
If you find yourself getting confused, try stripping down your sentence to just the essentials:
‘I don’t know or care who/whom you punched in the butt.’
who/whom you punched
You punched he. You punched him.
him -> whom
correct usage: ‘I don’t know or care whom you punched in the butt.
Also, if you really want to use whom but still can’t seem to get the rules straight, try looking for a pronoun such as you, he, she, they, we that precedes a verb in the latter half of your sentence.
‘Whom do you love?’
‘To whom did you write this letter?’
‘Whom should we contact on your behalf?’
Truthfully, whom offers no real utility in our language. It does not convey an idea more clearly or effectively than by simply using who. In fact, you could probably go the rest of your life without ever using whom and 99.9% of the world would never even notice.
But whom is not about utility or even pedantry. It’s about trousers and steeds. When you use whom, it instantly makes whatever you just said sound distinguished and classy, even if you said something terrible: ‘With whom shall I shave my back hair? You there, lovely miss! Wouldst thou care to frolic in the curly meadows of my upper backside?’
Using whom puts a smoking jacket onto whatever you just said. It turns sweatpants into trousers. A sputtering Honda into a well-groomed steed.
Whom is vocabulary drenched in bourbon, monocles and mustaches. So why use whom? Do it for the bourbon. Do it for the mustaches. Do it for the steeds.
At the bottom of the comic there is a link to the Twitter page of Jane Daugherty, who helped write the comic and is apparently the most awesome librarian this side of Jupiter.