Thursday, June 21, 2012

My Favorite Lesson: Who or Whom

Years ago I wrote this lesson as part of a teacher preparation class. I had to teach it to my classmates, and it was very popular with them. I always loved it, but it disappeared quite a few years ago. I always meant to try to recreate it, but I never felt I'd be able to get it right. Today I found it again! I want to share it with you. It's my favorite lesson of all the lessons I've ever written.


Who or Whom and Gilligan's Island!


While not commonly used in everyday speech, "whom" is still considered important in serious writing. Not using "whom" when you should shows a lack of formal writing skills; using it when you shouldn't is even worse. But have no fear. "Who" and "whom" are very easy to learn, and you'll be using them freely in no time at all.

Let's take it one step at a time, starting with a review.

1. We know that sentences generally contain a subject and a verb:
                     Gilligan  sneezed.
                      subject       verb
See? I told you this would be easy.

2. Some sentences also contain objects--either objects of the verb:
                    Gilligan dropped the coconut.
                     subject    verb         object of the verb
Or objects of the preposition:
                    The coconut fell on The Skipper.
                        subject      verb         object of the preposition

3. All of the subjects and objects above are expressed by nouns. The nouns can be replaced by pronouns:
                   He sneezed.
                   sub.   vb.

                   He dropped it.
                     sub.   vb.     obj. of vb.

                   It fell on him.
               sub.   vb.      obj. of prep.

4. Many pronouns use one form to express subjects an another former to express objects:
Subject          Object
I                  Me
He                 Him
She                Her
We                  Us
They                Them

           The Skipper was angry at Gilligan. He chased him around the tree. They didn't see the headhunter. He was watching them.
5. "Who" and "whom" are pronouns too. "Who" is used for subjects, and "whom" is used for objects:
Who sneezed?
On whom did the coconut drop?
6. What if  you're not sure if the word is a subject or an object? Replace the mystery word with "he" or "him" (yes, even if you're talking about Mary Ann or Ginger). If you use "he," your word is a subject; if you use "him," it's an object.

He is the one (who, whom) dropped the coconut.
He dropped the coconut. (Substitute "he" or "him" for the mystery word.)
He is the one who dropped the coconut.
 He is the one (who, whom) The Skipper chased.
The Skipper chased him.
He is the one whom The Skipper chased.
7. If you're asking a question and aren't sure whether to use "who" or "whom," answer the question using "he" or "him." 

(Who, Whom) did the headhunter watch?
The headhunter watched him.
Whom did the headhunter watch?
 Notice that "him" and "whom" both end in the letter M. This will help you remember that they belong in the same category--pronouns used to  express objects.

8. Poor "whom"! All these years of neglect have really left the lonely pronoun feeling insecure. However,  "whom" has its own little security blanket. When whom is the object of a preposition, it insists on keeping that preposition rght by its side no matter where it is in the sentence: 

Mary Ann baked a pie for the skipper with the coconut that had cracked open on his head.
For whom did Mary Ann bake the pie?
The Skipper is the person for whom Mary Ann baked the pie.
9. Let's review:
  • Use "who" to express subjects.
  • Use "whom" to express direct objects, indirect objects, or objects of prepositions.
  • If you're not sure whether you're dealing with a subject or an object, put "he" or "him" in the mystery word's place. Remember that "him" and "whom" are both used as  objects.
  • If "whom" is the object of a preposition, keep the preposition with "whom."

Ready for a quiz?

Choose "who" or "whom" in each of these sentences. Answers are at the end of this post.

1. Gilligan, (who, whom) is the world's biggest goof ball, is always getting into trouble.
2. Do you know (who, whom) threw the anchor overboard?
3. Gilligan is the one (who, whom) The Skipper blamed.
4. The only person on the island (who, whom) can cook is Mary Ann.
5. (Who, Whom) doesn't wish to be as rich as the Howells?
6. The castaway (who, whom) I most admire is the professor.

 Well, wasn't that fun and easy? What can I clear up for you?

And here are the answers:
1. who
2. who
3. whom
4. who
5. who
6. whom

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