Is it who or whom?

from Grammarly Blog

Grammar Basics: How to Use “Whom”

Whom is not a subject. Whom is a direct object of a verb.
Whom is one of the most confusing pronouns. Many people wonder how to use it. Is it a subject? Is it an object? Here are the simple answers.

  • Whom is not a subject.
  • Whom can be the direct object of a verb.
  • Whom did the waiter serve first? (The waiter served whom first?)
  • Whom is also used in a relative clause that describes a noun that is an object.

*The company hired the musician whom I recommended.

  • Whom can serve as the object of a preposition.

*With whom does Belinda plan to go to the dance?

*The man from whom Alexis received the letter works at the supermarket.

  • In casual speech and writing, people usually use who even when whom is technically correct. If you are still a little confused, try the substitution trick to determine whether to use who or whom. Mentally answer whom questions with the pronouns “him” or “her.”

*To whom does this pen belong? The pen belongs to him. This response makes sense, so whom is correct.

*Whom is coming to the party on Saturday? Her is coming. This reply does not sound right. You should replace whom with who.

On writing anything we want others to read

Image result for writingAny piece of expository writing, whether a report for work or an essay for a college English class, will be successful only to the extent that it is read; understood; and, if we have done our jobs well, appreciated. At the very least, it needs some kind of introduction that tells our readers where they’re headed and what they’re likely to find on the journey they have agreed to take with us. If we don’t provide this, we risk having them scratch their heads in bewilderment because they will feel as though they have come in on the middle of things.

After we’ve written an introduction that provides this road map, we’ll want to develop solid paragraphs that refer back to and extend our introduction. Every paragraph needs a topic sentence—a general statement that provides an overview of what the paragraph is about—and all of the information in the paragraph should relate only to and deepen that particular topic. If, for example, the topic sentence is about fruit, we will not want to include in the paragraph material about flat tires and incense unless we are certain we can successfully relate these to the topic of fruit.

Of course, if we create a paragraph around one topic but say little of importance about that topic, it is as if we have said nothing at all. To be successful writers, then, we need to develop our topics by providing substantive information that supports and deepens them. This includes using our own knowledge, observations, and experiences and offering paraphrased, summarized, and quoted material from our sources that add authority and credibility to our own ideas.

Crafting a paragraph (or sets of related paragraphs) around one topic goes a long way towards ensuring cohesion (when ideas hold together, one after the other) and coherence (when the writing flows smoothly). Using transitions that connect the ideas from one sentence to the next and from one paragraph to the next also helps to create a cohesive and unified piece; however, it is not enough just to use transitional words (such as “however”) and phrases that link sentences and paragraphs. Other transitional devices include taking an idea from one sentence and repeating or paraphrasing it in the next as well as referring back to an idea in a preceding paragraph.

Concluding well is as important as beginning well, and there are any number of ways to end an expository piece of writing. One way to end is to synthesize what you have written and to suggest why the reader should care about what you have said. Another conclusion strategy is to offer compelling information or insights that you have not mentioned previously.


Do you know how to use who, that, or which correctly?

that or which?

Image Credit

In my writing classes, students often want to know the rules about when to use whothat, and which in a sentence. I tell them that confusion about using these is not uncommon, and I begin my explanation with a discussion of the differences between who and that/which.

Use who when referring to a person. Consider this example: The boy who is at the end of the line should come to the front now. Use that or which only when referring to places or things. Take these examples: The sandwich that he ate was delicious. or The sandwich, which I ate yesterday, was delicious. Obviously, we would never say the sandwich who; nor should we say the boy that (although using that when referring to a person—particularly in conversation—is one of the more common grammatical mistakes).

Once they understand how to use who, that, and which correctly, many people still are confused about whether they should use that or which when referring to places or things. To understand which one is the correct choice, though, you first need to know the difference between a restrictive clause and a nonrestrictive clause.

A restrictive clause is a part of the sentence (a clause) that is essential to its meaning. For instance, in the previous example (The sandwich that he ate was delicious.), the clause that he ate is needed because I want my reader to know that we are not just talking about any sandwich; we are talking about the one that the boy ate. So, we use the word “that” to begin a clause that is essential if we are to understand the meaning of the sentence.

A nonrestrictive clause is one that adds more information to a sentence, but this information does not need to be there for us to understand the sentence’s meaning. And, to introduce an inessential, nonrestrictive clause, we use the word “which.” Consider, again, the example above: The sandwich, which I ate yesterday, was delicious. As the author of this sentence, I want to use the word “which” because the clause which I ate yesterday is additional information that is not critical to understanding the sentence, and I can take it out without changing the meaning.

We would use the word “who” to begin a nonrestrictive clause when we are referring to a person (e.g., The boy, who walked home yesterday, was happy.) Who walked home yesterday, the nonrestrictive clause, can be removed from the sentence, and it still would make sense.

Sometimes, though, our use of that or which depends on the meaning we intend. For instance, if I write The sandwich that I ate yesterday was delicious., I am using that because it is essential to the meaning of the sentence. If, say, previously I have mentioned something about a sandwich I ate today, which was not delicious, and I want to compare it to the one I ate yesterday, then that I ate yesterday is a necessary (restrictive) clause if you are to understand the comparison I am making.

Or, if I write Yesterday I rode the bus that is blue, by using that and not which I am suggesting there are other buses that are not blue. So, my next sentence could be Today, I rode the bus that is pink.

One last point is that we need to place commas at the beginning and at the end of a nonrestrictive clause, but we never use commas around a restrictive clause. Here are a few examples:

  • The girl, who is wearing green, came to school late.
  • Our car, which is black, is very dirty after the snowstorm.
  • The glasses, which I bought at Target, will be perfect for the holidays.
  • BUT NOT The sandwich, that I ate, was delicious.

So now you know.

The singular “they”

When I was a middle schooler I learned that you should never use a plural pronoun with a singular antecedent. Doing so could brand you a grammar ignoramus, which for Mr. Swenson, my 7th grade English teacher, was a fate almost worse than death.

According to Arika Okrent in “4 Fake Grammar Rules You Don’t Need to Worry About,” (Mental Floss),

[t]he rule says that because they is a plural pronoun, it must have a plural antecedent. This means that the sentence If anyone has a problem with that, they should tell me is wrong because anyone is singular and they is plural. They should be switched to a singular pronoun, but which one? “Generic he” was the prescription in the 19th century (If anyone has a problem with that, he should tell me), but as it became clear that he was neither generic nor neutral, the suggestion was to either use the cumbersome “he or she” (If anyone has a problem with that, he or she should tell me) or to rewrite the sentence entirely (Got a problem with that? Let me know).

To avoid the “cumbersome ‘he or she,'” many of us alternated their use, as in this example: “If anyone has a problem with that, he should tell me. Even better, she should complain to the director.” This approach, though, is nothing if not awkward—and confusing. Now, however, it appears we can use “they” with impunity; the Washington Post says so, and, at the American Dialect Society’s 2015 annual meeting, “they” was named “word of the year.”

Still, I don’t know if I will be able to make the switch. In a conversation yesterday, I heard myself say something like, “Anyone can take the class if they think it will help them.” Immediately Mr. Swenson’s face appeared before me, and he was not happy.


Hi, comma

Grammar Girl, Mignon Fogarty, writes this:

Technically, those e-mail messages you write should begin Hi, John—with a comma after Hi.

You see, Hi, John is different from Dear John because hi and dear are not the same kind of word. Hi is an interjection just like wow and ugh, and dear is an adjective that modifies John.

In Hi, John you are directly addressing John, which means the punctuation rules of “direct address” apply. From a comma-rules standpoint, Hi, John is no different from Thanks for coming, John or Wow, John, what were you thinking?

You can end Hi, John with a period or, if you continue the sentence, a comma.

So now you know.


“From the Department of Redundancy Department”

editingLast week, while grading the first sets of essays in my writing classes, I noticed that many of the papers contained overly long sentences with grammatical structures that snapped under their weight. As a result, I decided my students and I would need to have a conversation about the importance of being concise.

For a number of reasons, though, it is difficult to describe how one goes about being crisp in one’s writing. To begin, the word “concise” means different things to different people, so getting agreement on a definition is no easy task. And, more and more I am coming to see that what appears superfluous to one writer might be essential to another.

Take, for example, my having just written, “And, more and more I am coming to see that….” Of course I could have simply said, “I see that….” To me, however, there is a certain rhythm to the original, which I am entitled to admire  :), and there is also a sense I wish to convey by using the present progressive tense that I have come slowly to this understanding.

Perhaps we can agree, though, that there are obvious redundancies to avoid in our writing, and rooting them out might be a good way to develop sensitivity towards the more subtle excesses. Here, then, is a list of common superfluities:

  • Actual fact: By definition a fact is something that “is indisputably [or actually] the case,” so just the word “fact” will suffice.
  • Added bonus: A “bonus” is something that is extra or added, so “added” can be deleted.
  • Advance planning: “Planning” is something we do in advance. No?
  • At the present time: When we say “at present” we mean at this time, so we can just say “at present.” We can be even more concise and say, “Now.”
  • End result: If you think about it, a result is something that happens at the end, so the word “end” is unnecessary.
  • Enter in: When you enter a place, you go into that place, so “in” is redundant.
  • Past history: There is no need for the word “past.” In the known universe, history is something that is always in the past. Right?
  • Revert back: When something “reverts” it returns to a previous state, so “back” is unnecessary.
  • Still remains: This is a phrase I have been known to use, and more than once, but it is redundant: If something remains, it is still there, so out with “still.”
  • Unexpected surprise: If you expected a surprise, it wouldn’t be a surprise.
  • Unintentional mistake: If we make a mistake, we make it unintentionally, so just “mistake” will do.
  • Written down: I am often guilty of this redundancy. Something that is written is something that is written down. “Written” is all we need to say, then.

So now you know.


“If you cook Elmer will do the dishes.”


As you can see from the sentence in the headline, which appears in Hacker and Sommers’s Rules for Writers (7th edition), a missing comma can make for some pretty funny reading—even if we didn’t intend to be amusing.

For some people, though, commas are no laughing matter. Not long ago a friend of mine cried as she told me her tale of comma woe (which involved a mean-spirited professor, a red pen, and a classroom full of laughing students).

The rules regarding comma use are finite and are not too difficult to learn, though. Below are a few rules you might find especially helpful:


Use a comma between all items in a series (known as the Oxford, or serial, comma). Although some argue that a comma before the last item in a series is not necessary or, as might be the opinion of a newspaper editor, takes up too much space, I use it because it makes clear what otherwise might be confusing.

  • CORRECT: I love my parents, Lady Gaga, and Humpty Dumpty (from Grammarly).
  • UH-UH: I love my parents, Lady Gaga and Humpty Dumpty.


Use a comma before a coordinating conjunction (think FANBOYS—for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) ONLY when what follows that conjunction is a complete sentence with a subject and a verb (an independent clause).

  • CORRECT: I will cook Elmer, and I will also do the dishes.
  • UH-UH: I will cook Elmer, and will also do the dishes.


Use a comma after an introductory clause or phrase.

  • CORRECT: After taking a very long bus and train ride, my cousin said she was tired and wanted to go to bed.
  • UH-UH: When Irwin was ready to iron his cat tripped on the cord (from Rules for Writers, 7th edition).
  • EXCEPTION: You can omit the comma if the clause or phrase is short and the sentence will not be confusing without it. (Example—For once she was happy to see him.)


So now you know.