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Who vs. Whom - Grammar Errors

Cynthia is a writer, artist, and teacher. She loves studying language, arts, and culture, and sharing that knowledge.

Read about Hubert and his adventures with WHO and WHOM.

Read about Hubert and his adventures with WHO and WHOM.

When to Use Who and Whom

Grammar novices and experienced writers alike have such trouble with who vs. whom. They’re not interchangeable. Thankfully, a grammar error with who or whom is mostly overlooked in the English language, especially in the United States. Many writers and grammar-conscious people still ask how to use them, however. Read on to find out about how Hubert the Caterpillar uses who vs. whom.

Hubert thought the eyes were talking to him.

Hubert thought the eyes were talking to him.

Who and the Caterpillar Hubert

Hubert the caterpillar inched along. He was quite hungry. He hadn’t eaten since he came out of his egg.

He was a small, dark caterpillar. He almost blended in with the chocolate meringue pie that he smelled in the air.

He began munching on some pie when all of a sudden, he saw two eyes staring at him. He thought those eyes looked bigger than the pie!

Who are you?” the two big eyes asked. Hubert was confused as to how eyes could talk, but then he realized a very BIG mouth was under those eyes.

Hubert gulped. “B-b-but, first I must ask you, ‘Who are you’?”

“I’m the human with the pie that you’re eating. I’m very protective of my chocolate.”

“Oops. Sorry. I was thinking that it was soo good, I couldn’t help myself. The sugar is a little much, though. It’s upsetting my stomach a bit. Would you mind putting me on a leaf?”

“You never answered my question,” said the human.

“Oh dear. I’m Hubert. I’m really hungry, too.”

“Are you the one who’s been eating my apples?”

“Um, no. Perhaps my relatives did. I must say I am eyeing your watermelon over there.”

The human lifted Hubert onto her finger. “Hubert, I’m glad to know you. Now, please, if you run into the caterpillar who has been eating holes in my fruits and vegetables, please tell him to kindly eat the leaves in the forest. Besides, I’m sure they’re better for his digestive system.”

Hubert patted his stomach with about ten of his hands. Who would put so much sugar in a meringue pie? “Well, if you put me on that leaf over there, I’ll be on my way. But, I’m sorry, to whom am I speaking?

“Oh, yes, Hubert. I’m Mallory. That’s my name. That's who I am.”

“Well, it’s a pleasure to meet someone who is so nice and willing to share such good food.”

“Um, Hubert, for starters, humans don’t generally talk to caterpillars and expect a response. Second, I didn’t share it, you came along and ate it,” Mallory smiled.

“Oops. I did, didn’t I? But, I am not the one who ate holes in your garden. I merely enjoyed some meringue pie. May I have some more?”

“Is that your stomach grumbling? Maybe you’d better stop thinking of meringue pie. Help me find those other caterpillars who are eating holes in everything.

Hubert - The Who Caterpillar

Hubert - The Who Caterpillar

Who, Whom and Butterfly Wings!

Hubert looked around. Judging by the watermelons, honeydews, tomatoes, peas, peppers and even herbs that had holes, he thought he was going to be meeting some rather plump caterpillars in his near future.

Hubert inched along. A few leaves away, he found a mound of furry caterpillar. “Excuse me, Sir, but who are you?” Hubert asked.

“What do you mean ‘who am I’?” the caterpillar replied. He was in quite a bad mood. His stomach was grumbling terribly and he was massaging it with five of his hands. “Who are YOU?”

“Sir, I will not answer unless you tell me to whom I am speaking…first!”

“Sir Eatzlotz, that’s who and I enjoy your grammar, too.”

Hubert thought it odd that Eatzlotz should talk about grammar at this most inopportune but opportune moment.

“Thank you, sir. I gather your tummy is a little upset, too, because it’s making a lot of noise.” Hubert put four hands up to his ears. “That lady-human over there has told me that caterpillars have eaten holes in her garden. Do you know whom?

Eatzlotz licked his fingers. “Nope, sure don’t,” he said, with a sudden lapse of good grammar.

Hubert shuddered. Even if it could be this guy, he didn’t want to associate with him too much more. He sounded like a fuzzy monster with bad grammar. “I’ll just be on my way, then,” Hubert said and inching away.

Hubert climbed onto another plant and immediately happened upon two smaller caterpillars. “Pardon me. Do you know who has been eating holes in Miss Mallory’s garden? She’s the human with all the food.”

The two caterpillars just stared. They each had ten niblets of cheese in ten different hands. They didn’t respond, either. They just kept eating and loudly smacking their lips.

Hubert kept going. He hopped to another leaf and happened upon yet another caterpillar eating something orange. It was sweet-smelling.

“Excuse me, Ma’am. Could you tell me where you got that good food?”

She looked over at Hubert. Using her head – because her mouth was full – she pointed over to the garden.

“Ooh, I see,” Hubert sighed. “Would you mind saving some for my friend Mallory? She’s the lady who has all the food. She needs some for herself, you know.”

Hubert finally solved the mystery. He found one caterpillar who had eaten some of the food. He suspected that there were others, but for now, hopefully this caterpillar would spread the word. Besides, they might fall into a food coma if they ate too much.

Suddenly, Hubert himself fell into a food coma. The meringue pie made him sleepy. He covered up with a leaf and went to sleep. Wouldn’t you know, when he woke up, he had wings!

Hubert is on his way to find out WHO ate Mallory's fruits and vegetables.

Hubert is on his way to find out WHO ate Mallory's fruits and vegetables.

From the little story about the caterpillar and using who and whom, you can gather a few things about the uses of these words:

  • Who is used, generally, before a verb. He's the one who ate the pie. The word who comes before the verb ate.
  • Whom generally comes after the verb in a sentence. Mallory wanted to know whom Hubert talked. The word whom comes after wanted and to know.
  • When all else fails, use the he/him trick. If it's a question, answer the question and substitute he/him in for who/whom. If you would use he, then you will use who; if you use him, then you will need to use whom: Whom did she ask? She asked him. So, you substitute whom in for him.
  • When you have a statement, substitute in he/him to find out if you use who or whom: She wondered to whom she should ask her holey questions. Substitute in him: She wondered if she should ask her holey questions to him.

More on Who and Whom:

  • Who knows the answer? He knows the answer. Therefore, you use who.
  • There was only one caterpillar who ate the food? This really is a two-clause sentence. Make it simple: There was only one caterpillar. He ate the food. In this case, you will use who.
  • I need someone who is brown and fluffy. Again, this can be broken down into two sentences. Then you sub in he. I need someone. He is brown and fluffy.
  • If you look more closely at the word who, you'll find that who is the word that is doing the action. Whom receives the action.
  • Who's is the contraction of the two words who is and sometimes who has. Whenever you would use who is in a sentence, you can substitute who's.
  • Whose is when you want to show possession of an object. It's a possessive pronoun. Whose chocolate meringue pie is this?
  • The word whom always follows a preposition, usually to, by, of, about, or from. There are many other prepositions, but these are the most common. He addressed the Board of Caterpillars, "To whom it may concern..."
who-vs-whom-grammar-errors

Find Out Your "Who" Knowledge

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. To ______ was Hubert speaking?
    • whom
    • who
  2. ______ did Hubert ask about the holes in the garden?
    • Whom
    • Who
  3. Hubert can talk to ______ he pleases
    • whoever
    • whomever
  4. ____ was responsible for all the holes?
    • who
    • whom
  5. Hubert wanted to write a letter to the Board of Caterpillars. He began: To ____ it may concern.
    • who
    • whom
  6. Hubert wondered ____ fault it was.
    • Whose
    • Who's
  7. Mallory was interested in seeing ___ was eating her fruits and vegetables.
    • who
    • whom
  8. ____ ate the meringue pie?
    • Who
    • Whom
  9. Hubert wanted to talk to anyone ___ would listen.
    • whom
    • who
  10. Sir Eatzlotz is someone ___ eats a lot.
    • who
    • whom
  11. Hubert wandered around until he found ____ to talk to next.
    • who
    • whom
  12. Mallory didn't care ___ took responsibility, but she wanted the caterpillars to eat leaves.
    • whom
    • who
  13. Of all the caterpillars, ___ did Mallory like the most?
    • who
    • whom
  14. Eatzlotz is the one ____ ate the most.
    • who
    • whom
  15. Hubert wanted to find the caterpillar ___ ate the least.
    • who
    • whom

Answer Key

  1. whom
  2. Whom
  3. whomever
  4. who
  5. whom
  6. Whose
  7. who
  8. Who
  9. who
  10. who
  11. whom
  12. who
  13. whom
  14. who
  15. who

Interpreting Your Score

If you got between 0 and 4 correct answers: You'd better study those caterpillars some more.

If you got between 5 and 9 correct answers: You're going to get reported to the Board of Caterpillars.

If you got between 10 and 12 correct answers: You have my permission to eat some fruits and vegetables in the garden.

If you got 13 correct answers: You're caterpillarific!

If you got between 14 and 15 correct answers: You can have all the chocolate meringue pie you want!

© 2012 Cynthia Calhoun

Comments

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on June 13, 2012:

moonlake - you're so funny. :D I agree, there is a lot to remember and I actually have to refer back to my hub here from time to time to keep things straight. Haha.

moonlake from America on June 13, 2012:

I'm getting to old to keep all this information in my head. I will close this hub and completely forget what you have said. It's very good information for those who/whom have a memory. Voted up on your excellent hub.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on June 13, 2012:

vespawoolf - you know, I've thought about doing meddlesome words like that and you just gave me another hub idea! Thanks!! I appreciate it, hehe. Thanks for stopping by and for your feedback. :)

Vespa Woolf from Peru, South America on June 13, 2012:

I love your grammar error hubs. The characters you use to teach are cute and drive home the point. Have you ever thought of doing addictive vs. addicting? I've noticed it's misused a lot. Just an idea!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on June 07, 2012:

Sarah - hehe, thanks for stopping by. :) I'm glad you enjoyed this. Hubhugs!

sarahbeth006 from Maryland on June 06, 2012:

I love the story and the lesson! Fantastic. Thank you so much for such a great example that can be shared with others.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on May 26, 2012:

Keith - yep, if we're writers, we've definitely got to put our best foot forward. :) Thanks for coming by! Cheers~

KDuBarry03 on May 26, 2012:

One of the many rules writers overlook...I tend to overlook this from time to time in my rough sketches. Good to know! I thought this was a very fun way to show how these words are used!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on May 26, 2012:

Angela - thanks for stopping by! Hubhugs!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on May 26, 2012:

DFH - that's great!! I agree - you've got to put your best foot forward when presenting to a publisher. :) Good luck!! Hubhugs!

Angela Brummer from Lincoln, Nebraska on May 26, 2012:

Loved this!

DoItForHer on May 26, 2012:

I'm writing a book and am serious about having it published- if I ever get it done! Publishers don't expect perfect grammar, but submissions need to meet a certain standard. I'm hoping above average grammar will make it stand out more.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on May 26, 2012:

DoltForHer - hmm, the fact that you mention clauses and split prepositions tells me you have a great grasp of the technicalities of English. :D Bravo!

DoItForHer on May 26, 2012:

Great Hub. I am still having trouble with some clauses and the split prepositions. Looks like I could use some more practice.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on May 25, 2012:

Docmo - hehehe, I love teaching English using wacky, quirky stories. I'll continue to do so. :) Thanks for the feedback.

Mohan Kumar from UK on May 25, 2012:

Superb. If only my English teacher had taught Grammar this way! I really love the use of this brilliant story to illustrate the rules concerning who and whom. Very well illustrated and told. I am glad I found this hub! voted up up and away.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on May 25, 2012:

Inspired 4 U - you are sweet to tweet. :D Thanks again for coming by!!

Jo Anne Meekins from Queens, NY on May 24, 2012:

You're welcome cclitgirl! I forgot about my twitter account. About to add it there also. It is a great read that I am pleased to recommend to my fans and followers. :-)

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on May 24, 2012:

Faceless39 - thank you so much for stopping by. :) I appreciate your feedback and thank you for the votes. Hubhugs!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on May 24, 2012:

Inspired 4 U - Wow! Thank you so much for all the kudos!! I'm so glad you enjoyed this. When I get a chance, I'll have a look at your fan page. :) Hubhugs!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on May 24, 2012:

B. Leekley - Yes!! That's awesome. You MUST be a good student. ;)

Kate P from The North Woods, USA on May 24, 2012:

I adore your way of teaching grammar. Voted way up, interesting, awesome, and useful!

Jo Anne Meekins from Queens, NY on May 24, 2012:

Voted up, useful and interesting! Thanks for sharing and teaching in such a creative way. Great delivery of a well made point! I bookmarked this hub and posted it to my fb fan page @ http://on.fb.me/gEJAwm.

Brian Leekley from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on May 24, 2012:

Hurray,I got 100% on the quiz! Up, Useful, Interesting, and delightful.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on May 24, 2012:

Kieran - hehe, who and whom are two words that you can easy get tripped up with, and they are falling out of use, so it's harder to hear when exactly you should use them. But, thanks for stopping by and for your input - I appreciate you. :) Cheers!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on May 24, 2012:

LoryRich - thank you so much for your feedback. I'm thrilled you found the story interesting. Yes!! Thanks again. Hubhugs!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on May 24, 2012:

Beata - hehe, thanks for stopping by! It's always fun to do a little grammar...with crazy stories, of course! ;)

Kieran Gracie on May 24, 2012:

I waded into your quiz, fully expecting to cruise through it - and got 2 wrong! Thank you for bringing me down to Earth, cclitgirl, I needed it.

Lory Rich from Philippines on May 23, 2012:

Thanks for your very instructive hub. I find it to be very useful and the story is also interesting. More power!

Beata Stasak from Western Australia on May 23, 2012:

Very useful, thank you, I needed to check my English grammar, ha,ha:)

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on May 23, 2012:

Bill! Hey there, friend! Hehe, you're so funny. Thank you so much for stopping by. :) You - iliterate? Oh, my goodness. You are/were a legendary teacher for goodness sake! Your hubs are incredible and inspirational. I always look forward to reading. :D

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on May 23, 2012:

How the hell did I miss this one? You even mentioned you were writing it and I missed it. Great hub my friend and funny as always. I love these little grammar lessons even though they leave me feeling quite illiterate.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on May 23, 2012:

Darkproxy - you are correct. :) Thanks for stopping by! Cheers.

Darkproxy from Ohio on May 23, 2012:

Well in short, of what I know “Who” is always the subject, and whom is for objects.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on May 22, 2012:

Ruchira - hello, awesome friend! Hehe, you are incredible with grammar! Thank you so much for coming by and commenting. :)

Ruchira from United States on May 21, 2012:

Awesome story and I sure learnt quite a few things, Cyndi.

took your interesting quiz and scored a 93%...lol

you are a great teacher and I adore you :)

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on May 21, 2012:

Made - great to see you, friend! I'm so glad you found this useful and interesting. Thanks so much for stopping by. :)

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on May 21, 2012:

mysthicalstorm273 - thanks so much for stopping by. Like you, I've never minded who and whom too much - and I'm definitely not perfect at it, either. Hehe. But, that tells me that you are not only brilliant, but I need to get over to your hubs - I'm thinking a brilliant writer, too! Hubhugs!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on May 21, 2012:

thesingernurse - thank you so much for stopping by. I'm so thrilled that you enjoyed this. Thank you for the votes, kudos and shares. I appreciate you! Have a wonderful day! Hubhugs!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on May 21, 2012:

John - hi, friend! Great to see you! Hehe, I DO have one on "I" and "me" - for some reason the misuse of "I" and "me" drives me far more crazy than does "who" and "whom" - those are tricky. "I" and "me" just are two tiny little words. Hehe. Thanks so much for coming by. :) Cheers!

Madeleine Salin from Finland on May 21, 2012:

Grammar is interesting. This hub was both useful and entertaining. Thank you! :)

mythicalstorm273 on May 21, 2012:

For some reason although my grammar is one of my major weaknesses I have never had that much of an issue with who and whom. I do mess up once in a while, but generally that is one of the easier ones for me. It may just be because it made sense in my head. I'm not really sure, but clearly you did an amazing job with this hub! Thank you for spreading the knowledge!

Tina Siuagan from Rizal, Philippines on May 21, 2012:

This hub shows a better way to understand the PROPER use of who, whom, whoever, and whomever. The test at the end of the hub also helped a lot in gauging every readers learning experience from the fun passage. Good job!

Voting up and sharing. This would help a lot of fellow hubbers!

John Sarkis from Winter Haven, FL on May 21, 2012:

Hi cclitgirl, you did it! Thanks! Great read.

By the way, sometimes I like to use whom when I should have used who and vice versa just for the kick of it. ...not sure if you've done one on "I" vs. "me," I'll have to check it out.

Take care and great hub

John

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on May 21, 2012:

Stephanie - hello, great to see you! I'm so glad you stopped by. Who and whom aren't the easiest of words to grasp, but if you err on the side of who, and use "whom" after a preposition, you'll probably get it right. :) Hubhugs!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on May 21, 2012:

Who are you? OH YES! A RAY OF SUNSHINE! Helloooo, Sunshine! Good to see you! Thanks so much for stopping by. :D Let the caterpillars bask in the sunshine!

Stephanie Henkel from USA on May 21, 2012:

I enjoyed your very useful explanations of "who" and "whom" usage. Just when I thought I had it down pat, I took the quiz and missed two questions... guess I have to study some more! :)

Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on May 21, 2012:

Guess who! Yep, it's me!

Very useful hub for those whom are confused as to which word to use. I wonder who that could be? :)

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on May 21, 2012:

anusujith - Wow! Nice job on the quiz! I'm glad you enjoyed this and I appreciate your stopping by. Great student. :) Cheers!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on May 21, 2012:

Natashalh - thank you so much for stopping by!! I appreciate the votes and feedback. It's always great to see you. :) Hubhugs!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on May 21, 2012:

Rajan - hello, friend! Great to see you! I am so glad you liked this. :) Hubhugs!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on May 21, 2012:

Hi, Ardie! It's so great to see you!! You know, a great mama like you I'm sure has great instincts. Hehe, those instincts will carry over to grammar, too. XD You're amazing!! Hubhugs!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on May 21, 2012:

Vinaya - you speak and write English beautifully. Keep up the good work! Don't let these two meddlesome words foul you up - just keep writing. :)

Anoop Aravind A from Nilambur, Kerala, India on May 21, 2012:

Do you know i got 93 % in your quiz. I have done 1 mistake. It's so interesting. Informative. Thanks for the share.

Natasha from Hawaii on May 21, 2012:

This is fantastic! Thank you for the clear grammar explication. Voted up and useful.

Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on May 20, 2012:

Very well taught, Ma'am. I enjoyed the lesson. Loved the way you wove it into a story.

Sondra from Neverland on May 20, 2012:

Who and whom always trip me up. My old trusty standby was to go with who more often than not...and it worked! After reading your Hub and story I feel more confident in my who/whom use. I even scored an 86 on the quiz - not too bad!!! :)

Vinaya Ghimire from Nepal on May 20, 2012:

English is my second language and most of the time who and whom confuse me. Thanks for this wonderful lesson.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on May 20, 2012:

alocsin - hey there! Thanks as always for stopping by - I definitely look forward to your input, Aurelio. :) Yeah, I admit that I don't use "whom" as much - I'll either use another word or restructure the sentence to use "who" because it is beginning to fall out of use here in the US. Hubhugs!

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on May 19, 2012:

Another excellent grammar article to explain a perplexing word. I sidestep the problem by never using "whom," which, as you say, is common here in the U.S. Voting this Up and Useful.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on May 18, 2012:

Rose - aw, you are simply amazing and I love seeing you 'round the Hub. :D You're an amazing writer, too. Thanks so much for stopping by. Always great to see you. :)

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on May 18, 2012:

Aw, shucks. Thanks Glen. I think you're the smart student. :D Thanks so much for stopping by and I'm so glad you were able to grasp it despite my crazy stories. hehehe. Cheers!

Rose Clearfield from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on May 18, 2012:

Well done as always, Cyndi!

Glenn Stok from Long Island, NY on May 18, 2012:

This has been one of those grammar rules I mess up sometimes. But after reading your Hub I scored 100% on your quiz. You had a great way of explaining it so that I'd get it right each time now. Who is a great teacher? You are, Cyndi. Thanks for writing this Hub. Voted up.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on May 18, 2012:

teaches - hello, friend! Thanks so much for stopping by. :) I'm glad you enjoyed this - who and whom can be troublesome little buggers. :D Thanks again ~ hubhugs!

Dianna Mendez on May 18, 2012:

Nicely done! These words are ones that I struggle with. I will have to keep this lesson ongoing and come back to take the test often. Thanks for posting.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on May 17, 2012:

Vellur - great to see you! Thank you as always for your kind words and comments. I appreciate you and your timely visits. Hubhugs!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on May 17, 2012:

JGoul - you know, I had to review who/whom thoroughly before publishing this. For me, who/whom aren't as simple as they might seem. You're right, too, proper usage is actually going away and more people - especially in the US - just use "who". But, I thought I'd tackle this one in a fun way just to show that sometimes you just have to use "whom". Hehe. Thanks for stopping by. Cheers!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on May 17, 2012:

Pamela - hehe, thank you for your kind words. :) You know, I was talking to a friend about "then" and "than" - after I read your comments, I'm thinking I need to write a hub on that, too. :D Thanks again. Hubhugs!

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on May 17, 2012:

Another great grammar hub.Usage of who and whom explained very well and in an interesting way. Loved this one. Voted up. Enjoyed the video too.

JGoul on May 17, 2012:

Very nicely done! This is a great, light-hearted approach to a tricky problem. Respectfully, I have to disagree with Pamela; who vs. whom is one of the only grammatical rules that still troubles me. I think a lot of people find it difficult because the proper usage is gradually fading from the language. Because the distinction isn't seen in everyday conversation or in popular writing, you can't rely on your "ear" as a crutch.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on May 17, 2012:

This story illustrated your point very well. I have seen then versus than also used incorrectly. The who and whom rules are quite simple and I'm glad you wrote this useful hub.