Who, whom, and whose ask for specific information about people.
Who asks about the subject (the person doing something). Whom asks questions about the object (the person “receiving” the action that the subject performs).
Lesson objectives: Learn question words in English.
Goals: Learn how to ask questions using “who” to refer to people as the subject of the sentence; ask questions using “whom” to refer to people as the object of the sentence or the object of the preposition; ask questions using “whose” to refer to a people’s possessions or associations.
Prerequisite: Lesson requires a basic understanding of the verb to be in the present.
Whose asks questions about something that belongs or is associated with a person.
Let’s learn more about these question words.
Who and Whom
“Who” asks for specific information about the subject of the sentence. “Whom” is not used very often anymore, but it asks for specific information about the object of the sentence or the object of a preposition. What does this mean?
Who as the Subject and Whom as the Object
In the sentence,
The girls are kissing their father.
you have two main parts: the girls and their father. The girls are performing the action. That is the subject of the sentence. The question word to ask for that information is “who.”
Who is kissing the father? — The girls are.
Their father is receiving the action. That is the object of the sentence. You use “whom” or more commonly “who” to ask for specific information about the object.
Whom are the girls kissing? — Their father.
Who are the girls kissing? — Their father.
Notes about who and whom
English is losing the distinction between “who” and “whom,” especially in informal situations.
In more formal situations or in formal writing, “whom” is still used.
You may still need to know the difference on a grammar test or in formal writing.
If you are not sure if you need to use “who” or “whom” in an informal situation, use “who.”
“Who is he kissing?” is technically wrong, but it sounds okay. Most people say that in informal English.
“Whom is kissing him?” is wrong and sounds wrong. When you say that, people think you are trying to be formal, but you do not know very well. You end up sounding like you are trying to impress.
Let’s look at some examples using “who” and “whom.”
Using who to ask about the subject
— Who is John Ecks?
— He’s my English teacher.
— Who are those people?
— They’re my friends.
— Who is from France, Camille or Juliette?
— Juliette is from France.
— Who speaks French, Camille or Juliette?
— They both do. (They both speak French.)
— Who teaches English at that school?
— Mr. Ecks does. (Mr. Ecks teaches English there.)
Whom as the Object of the Preposition
You also use objects after a preposition.
John is giving Jack the keys.
Jack is the object of the verb (give).
John is giving the keys to Jack.
Jack is the object of the preposition (to).
To ask questions about the object of the preposition, you can use “whom” (formal) or “whom.” You use “who” especially when you leave the preposition after the verb.
Using who or whom as the object of the preposition
The teacher is interested in her student. (The object of the preposition is “in her student.”)
In whom is the teacher interested? — In her student. (She is interested in her.)
Who is the teacher interested in? — In her student. (She is interested in her.)
Carlos is in love with Janet. (The object of the preposition is “Janet.”)
With whom is Carlos in love? — With Janet. (He is in love with her.)
Who is Carlos in love with? — With Janet. (He is in love with her.)
Patricia is talking to Louise and Ricardo. (The object of the preposition is “Louise and Ricardo.”)
To whom is Louise talking? — To Louise and Ricardo. (She is talking to them.)
Who is Carlos in love with? — To Louise and Ricardo. (She is talking to them.)
We use “whose” to ask about specific information about a person’s possession or association with someone else. It refers to possessive pronouns (my, his, her, your, and so on).
Using whose to ask about someone’s possession or association with another
Leila is riding her bicycle.
Whose bicycle is Leila riding?
She is riding her bicycle.
Jack and Jenny are painting their room.
Whose room are Jack and Jenny painting?
They are painting their room.
These are the keys to my car.
Whose car are these the keys to?
They're the keys to my car. (To my car.)
I listen to Alison's podcast every morning.
Whose podcast do you listen to every morning?
I listen to Alison’s podcast. (To her podcast.)
Patricia is punching her trainer’s face.
Whose face is she punching?
Her trainer’s face. (His face.)
Practice 1. Practice the difference between “who” and “whom.”
Practice 2. Practice using “who,” “whom,” and “whose.”
Other Lessons on Question Words
This list of lessons includes many other question words.
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