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Column: The Temple of Whom

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Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt

 

Today I want to tackle another tricky grammar bugaboo. It’s one of those confusing quandaries I simply avoid using because I don’t want to sound dumb. I’m talking about who and whom.

Every time I’m tempted to use whom, I’m afraid of sounding like I own a fancy, private helicopter to travel to my private island where I roll around in gold coins, Scrooge McDuck-style. It just kind of sounds snooty. So let’s learn how to use it correctly, shall we?

I have an easy way to remember when to use who or whom: Use who when you can replace it in a sentence with he; use whom when you can replace it in a sentence with him. For example: Who/Whom tried to parachute out of my private helicopter? Bad idea, dude.

Let’s try replacing who/whom with him. Him tried to parachute out of my private helicopter. That doesn’t sound right. How about he: He tried to parachute out of my private helicopter. That sounds better, so we should use who in this sentence.

Another example: To who/whom did you invite over to your secret island bungalow this weekend? Which sounds right: I invited he over to my secret island bungalow this weekend, or, I invited him to my secret island bungalow this weekend. Him sounds better, so we should use whom in this example.

He/him is simply a secret, tricky way to determine the subject and object of a sentence. The subject is the person (or place or thing) doing the action in a sentence. The object is the person (or place or thing) on the receiving end of the action. To whom (object) did Gary (subject) direct his cheesy pick-up lines? Since we usually don’t think in terms of subject and object, I think it’s simpler to use the he/him trick.

In my opinion, going around using whom properly probably makes people assume you have an entire closet just for your polo ascots, but I always enjoy a rollicking, post-brunch polo match on the beach of my exclusive pretend island.


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