The Debate Between Who & Whom

When a grammar issue causes a kerfluffle among Twitter users, this Word Nerd pays attention. Let’s see if you find a problem with this phrase commonly seen on Twitter:

Twitter who to follow
Have you seen this when you’re on Twitter?

Twitter (as well as Instagram, Facebook, and other social media platforms) often suggests users to follow, but sadly, the social media giant is promoting bad grammar. If Twitter wanted to stick to proper grammar, it would give you suggestions for “Whom To Follow”. Here’s why.

When to Use Who vs. Whom

Who

When the word is the subject of the sentence, who should be used. For example

  • Who is going to the party?
  • Who wants some pizza?

Whom

When the word is the object of a preposition or a verb, whom should be used, for example:

  • With whom are you riding to the party? (whom is the object of the preposition with)
  • For whom the bell tolls (whom is the object of the preposition for)

If you’re not sure, you can use a substitution test similar to the one I recommended in my post on when to use I vs Me. Try substituting the pronoun he or him in the sentence and see which one makes the most sense. If he sounds right (he is a subjective pronoun) use who. If him sounds right (him is an objective pronoun) use whom. (They both have “m”s!)

For example, if you’re wondering about the right way to say Who is this cupcake for?, flip the question into a sentence and sub in either he or him.

  • The cupcake is for he vs. The cupcake is for him.

Which sounds better? The second one, using him, because him is the object of the preposition “for”. So the correct form of the question is Whom is this cupcake for?

The Battle between “Whoms and Whos”

Should Twitter suggest “Whom to follow” instead? Most people think that sounds stilted and old-fashioned, which is why “Who to follow” remains. After all, the Internet isn’t known for sticking to rules of grammar, spelling, or punctuation, LOL. 😉  Perhaps “whom” may eventually fall in company with “thou”, which we mostly see these days in the King James Bible or Renaissance texts.

However, die-hard grammar lovers are fighting to save “Whom”. Thomas Steiner, a systems engineer at Google, created a browser plug-in that automatically corrects who to whom when appropriate. And British scriptwriter James T. Harding runs a Facebook group called the “Whom Appreciation Society”.  They think Twitter should stick to proper usage.

Me? I’m embarrassed to admit that I never had a problem with Twitter’s “Who to Follow” until I read the WSJ article “The Bell Tolls for Whom” that inspired this post. I suspect “Whom to follow” would seem too snobby and formal for most users. And the Ghostbuster’s Theme song would sound awfully strange if they changed the lyrics to “Whom you gonna call?”

That said, I worry about the influence of the casual language on the Internet and in text messages. Will spelling and grammar become less important as everyone grows more accustomed to “Internet speak”? I’m afraid so. I think it’s critical to know proper usage, even if exceptions sound better in certain cases. And we should always strive for correct grammar in formal situations, like letters, emails, papers, and articles. Yes, I said emails. Maybe not the ones to your dad, but definitely the ones to your boss, coworkers, or clients.

Word Nerd Workout

Which word should you use in the following sentence, who or whom?

I was very upset to learn that my Aunt June, who/whom I loved dearly, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

For a more detailed explanation of when to use who or whom, visit my post When to Use Who vs. Whom .

Where do you stand on the whom/who debate? Should Twitter stick to proper grammar? Or are you willing to throw grammar rules out the window for what sounds better?

Thanks for getting nerdy with me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Julia Tomiak
I believe in the power of words to improve our lives, and I help people find interesting words to read. Find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest, and Google+. Member of SCBWI and Wordsmithstudio.org.

4 Comments

  1. “Writing…is a form of disciplined thinking. It’s more valuable now, it’s more necessary now, I would argue, than ever before because no previous generation has lived in a society which so thoroughly interferes with sustained thinking.”

    -Scott Russell Sanders
    BYU’s 2016 Nan Osmond Grass Lecturer

  2. Okay I’m going to be the first to try the above question – at first I thought “whom” because it just sounded correct…but looking at the “rules,” I’m not really sure because let’s say Aunt June could be substituted with “he” (not him), than we’d say “who,” right? Since it’s not a question, I’m not sure how to turn the sentence around…I will be checking back 🙂

    p.s. the Twitter debate is hilarious! I love grammarians – they are essential for a civilized society!

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