Usage Wars: the sad, slow death of "whom"

For over 150 years now, whom has been the next word to disappear from the English language.

Hasn’t happened yet. Not quite. The rules for using who or whom aren’t that difficult, but most people can’t be bothered. And when they do try, they often botch the job and hypercorrect.

I say let it die. Outside of famous quotes, titles, and dialogue for people who would use (rightly or wrongly) the word whom, it is archaic, commonly hypercorrected, and overly formal. The word has no place (other than the above examples) in our language.

Consider any primer or guide on the matter. The examples for where whom should be used are almost all stilted and formal. I know with whom I will speak. Who talks like that?

The few examples that aren’t stuffy and convoluted–that sound like actual human speech–are all sentences that people usually use who for. Whom should I talk to about an insurance plan? Nah, people in real life just say who.

So there’s no point in whom anymore. Thoughts?

1 Like

There is a point in whom.

It’s not archaic; that would be like saying him and her are archaic. Many people still use it.

Not really. Most people don’t confuse he and him or she and her outside of constructions with linking verbs like This is she / her.

Who and whom confusion is ubiquitous.

I often hear “me and my friend” and “him and I.”


Valid point.

And generally even if the grammar isn’t “correct”, people still perfectly understand the intention regardless.

Still, it can be a good marker for a slightly more archaic/formal character to say “To whom am I speaking?” while other characters would say “Who am I talking to?”


I use it, but not very often. It’s “who” most of the time.

1 Like

I don’t think whom is necessary for effective communication or for practical language use. However, I don’t think many words that are in our lexicon are there because of their practicality - part of language is the beauty and art of language as much as the expedience of it.

I would rather it not be used at all than it be used wrongly by people who are trying to be sophisticated, because then it comes off as a little pretentious. However, in the right context, whom can make a difference to the feel of a sentence. Daily use? Yes, it sounds pretentious or archaic. But in writing, it can add character and change the style.

Consider the following:
There were seven people present, most of whom I knew intimately.
There were seven people present, most of who I knew intimately.
There were seven people present; most of them I knew intimately.

Three sentences. The second one is not grammatically correct (who and whom are not actually always interchangeable.) The first and third are different enough that there are times where one might be preferred over the other - times when whom is still the better choice.

The other place I appreciate understanding how to use “whom” is when I am reading historical documents or praying older prayers/singing hymns. There is a sense of history that comes from reading a word that has largely fallen out of use, and it makes me appreciate the rich history of our language and, through that, the history of whatever document or song I am looking at.

“Whom shall I fear?”
“Whom shall I send?”
“Of whom shall I be afraid?”
It just wouldn’t be the same with “who.”

Prayers are really the only time I use a number of even more archaic words, but I enjoy doing it, I think for the same reason I still enjoy using Latin. There’s a different tone and feel to it when it’s the same words that have been used for hundreds and hundreds of years.

One last note on whom.
If I look at any particular word too long, it stops looking like a word and just starts looking odd. In this particular case, after spending (way too much) time considering the many and varied reasons I am attached to the word whom, it suddenly looked like something different. Like wham, but with an ‘o’. Whooom. Whaahm. Like a sound effect. If I use it as a sound effect in my novel does it count toward my word count?
“Thy kingdom come”


I get that a lot.

That would be “To whom should I talk about an insurance plan?” Or better, “With whom can I discuss an insurance plan?”

People don’t write the way they talk. In writing, it’s worth doing it properly (unless you’re writing dialogue, which should sound closer to the way people speak, but not EXACTLY like it, because people stutter and repeat themselves far more in real life than they should in print).

also, I think “whom” sounds cool and it’s worth using solely for that reason.


My god, do they ever!

1 Like