Rosky Legal Education

Happy summer!

This newsletter is dedicated to a single letter—m. More specifically, when should a writer use whom rather than who?

Most good writers know the basics: who is used for subjects, and whom for objects. That’s why it’s proper phone etiquette to say either “Who is calling?” or “To whom am I speaking?

Keep reading to see if you know how to navigate the who-whom distinction in more complicated sentences.

Until the next tip!
Dianne Rosky

Who or whom? Hmmm...

Who or whom?
Deciding between who and whom gets tricky in complex sentences. I realized just how tricky when two of the snazziest writers I know—my brother and a friend who wrote for Businessweek for many years—emailed me to ask whether the following sentences require who or whom
  • Suffolk County detectives looking for whoever killed four prostitutes are pursuing leads on the Web.
  • One notorious example was Bob Kunst, an activist who Bryant had accused of handing out pamphlets about homosexuality at local high schools.
I won’t keep you in suspense—the whoever in the first sentence is correct, but the who in the second sentence should be changed to whom.

Here’s the deal: when deciding between who and whom (or whoever and whomever), think about whether you would try replacing the who or whom in question with he (or she) or him (or her). If you would use he to replace the word, then the correct choice is who (or whoever); if you would use him to replace the word, the correct choice is whom (or whomever).

So the who in the first sentence is correct because you’d write, He killed four prostitutes. (Don’t get confused by the fact that you could say, The police are looking for him. Pay attention to the verb that goes with who or whom.) 
But the whoever in the second sentence should be replaced with him, as in, Bryant accused him.

Here are a few more (correct) examples:
  • I ran into an attorney whom I know from law school. (I know him.)
  • You may designate whomever you prefer. (You may designate him.
  • She represented a mother who had forged travel documents to take her two young children away from their father, who she said beat her for seven years. (She had forged documents, and she said he beat her.)
  • The ruling affected whoever had purchased the stock in 2010. (He had purchased the stock.)

CLE Webinars

Our CLE webinars are now set to launch in the fall. The first one—Authoritative Legal Writing: Show Confidence on Paper—will be offered live on September 17.   Sign up here.
Purdue OWL
Recommended resource

In keeping with today's owl theme, we're recommending the excellent website Purdue OWL, or Online Writing Lab. OWL houses infinite layers of exercises and guides on all things grammatical and stylistic. The content geared toward ESL writers is especially rich, but the whole site is a treasure trove. 

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