from The Century Dictionary.

  • The objective case (original dative) of who.
  • noun A Scotch form of horn.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • pronoun The objective case of who. See who.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • pronoun formal What person or people; which person or people, as the object of a verb.
  • pronoun formal What person or people; which person or people, as the object of a preposition.
  • pronoun Him; her; them (used as a relative pronoun to refer to a previously mentioned person or people.)


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[Middle English, from Old English hwǣm, hwām; see kwo- in Indo-European roots.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

Old English hwam


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  • “… such is the kindness of the torturers, whom I was subsequently to betray.”

    —Gene Wolfe, The Book of the New Sun

    September 24, 2008

  • There's no other word that can make one sound so intelligent when one uses it correctly and so stupid when one uses it incorrect.

    May 9, 2009

  • Eh, I consider this word to be defunct.

    May 9, 2009

  • Seanahan - why do you consider it to be defunct?

    May 9, 2009

  • It's fallen out of use in ordinary speech, so I reckon it's obsolescent, much as I appreciate the occasional correct use of it in a work document (mostly my own) or (very rare) on the news.

    May 9, 2009

  • It's hardly defunct, and there are contexts where it is still unavoidable. "Ask not for who the bell tolls" just doesn't work.

    May 10, 2009

  • It tolls for theeeeeeeeeee, rolig.

    May 10, 2009

  • How doesn't it work, rolig? I think everyone would understand it. Of course it sounds wrong because it's such a well-worn phrase, but it's perfectly functional. I think the bell has tolled for whom.

    May 10, 2009

  • I should have been clearer. "Ask not for who the bell tolls" sounds wrong not only because this is a familiar quotation. "Don't ask who the bell tolls for" sounds perfectly fine to me, though it's lost its solemnity. There are times when we want to use a relative clause in which the relative pronoun follows a preposition – for example when we want to stress a point or add a note of solemnity or perhaps avoid a certain confusion: "This is the person I told you about" is fine, but if you want to say that you worked without complaint night and day for this person even sacrificing your weekends and never heard a word of thanks from him, you might not want to say: "This is the person I worked without complaint night and day for, even sacrificing my weekends, and never heard a word of thanks from." In this case, I would prefer: "This is the person for whom I worked night and day without complaint, even sacrificing my weekends, and from whom I never heard a word of thanks." When you need a form of who to follow a preposition, it will probably be whom. At least to my ear, for who …, concerning who …, with regard to who …, etc. all sound wrong. But I admit, this may be a generational thing.

    May 10, 2009

  • It tolls for yinz. Go stillerz!

    May 10, 2009

  • For whom such is the bell told, that it should not be asked?

    Edit: For whom such the bell be told, ere it should be asked not?

    May 10, 2009

  • Whomsoever, sounds a'pealing.

    Edit: Whomsoever, sounds a'pealing. Not for very much longer . . . . Let's do the time warp again . . .

    May 10, 2009

  • The only time I hear this word is in quotations, like Donne or King James. I think this is the main reason people don't use it. If they do use it in writing, the spellcheck must be doing it for them. I understand the rule that governs it, but am unable to make myself use it in speech. Most people I know never use it, or wouldn't know how to use it even if they did. Finally, it doesn't seem to be any loss at all to the language.

    May 10, 2009

  • I use it. Not often, but sometimes it occurs to me mid-sentence that I should say whom rather than who. I know others who do the same. It's not dead yet.

    @gangerh: It's just a jump to the left.

    May 10, 2009

  • Like I said, this could be a generational thing. I agree that it is rarely used in colloquial speech (though it probably is not out of place, and may even be required, in formal speech, such as a commencement address). Of course it is still used in serious writing, especially when the speaker does not want to sound colloquial, where the speaker wants to convey the sense "these are important issues." Colloquial speech is not the only acceptable style in language.

    "Whom" has been hanging on by its fingernails for a couple of generations at least, and it has not been helped by stodgy grammarians who insist on its use in places where the common tongue prefers "who", but I think it will survive precisely because it is sometimes needed as the object of a preposition and saying "about who" or "from who" usually sounds as wrong as saying "about he" or "from they".

    Then, of course, words like "whom" can also be useful when you want to play the class card. Someone who asks on the telephone: "To whom am I speaking?" may well be sending a slightly different message than the person who asks, "Who am I talking to?"

    My father always told me, "Never throw anything away because there may come a time when you'll need it." I believe this applies to words too.

    May 10, 2009

  • "Never throw anything away because there may come a time when you'll need it."

    There's a line to be drawn with that one, though. If you'd seen my flat, you'd agree :D

    May 10, 2009

  • Pleth, it sounds like your flat is proof that you agree with my father's guiding principle (unfortunately for domestic bliss, my mother didn't). Words, thankfully, don't take up as much space as the things my father gathered around him.

    May 10, 2009

  • I love Ezzackly's comment.

    May 10, 2009

  • I occasionally get to write references at work: board members, staff, work-experience students and such. I can't imagine ever writing 'To Who It May Concern' on the top of these.

    May 10, 2009

  • Er, I don't know if "agree" is the right word, rol. I can't seem to stop myself adhering to said principle, but consciously, I know it's a bad idea.

    Pro: Me too.

    May 10, 2009

  • But the only reason you can't imagine it, bilby, is because it's such an oft-repeated phrase. It's perfectly understandable with who.

    I'm not some linguistic fascist out to cull struggling words like whom (which I really rather like), but I don't think conscious efforts to preserve such words, when they're all but gone from colloquial speech (which although not the only form of language is the defining one) have any hope of success. I like the familiar second person too, and it certainly had its uses, but what can you do? It's gone.

    I'm also not a believer in the "keep it; someday you might want it" dictum - I'd rather chuck things out if I'm not using them, or even if I'm only using them a little, because while I don't mind untidiness at all, I don't like clutter! Of course words are not chattels; I don't think it's a great analogy.

    May 10, 2009

  • "Whom" may well be on its way out, but it's taking its time leaving the language. These things happen over generations. Yarb, you mention the familiar second person singular (thou, thee, thy). Back in the '60s, when I was just a child, my grandparents' generation regularly used thou-forms when addressing God in prayer, but I don't think my parents did, probably because they felt insecure about it (when do you say thou, when do you say thee, and what are we supposed to do with ye?). Back then, most church-goers still used the King James' Version, though there were bands of RSV-users in the congregation. Then, God help us all, sometime in the early '70s the Living Bible reared its modern paraphrasing head, and the colloquial Good News Bible (New Testament only) came on the scene with doodle-like drawings meant to appeal to the guitar-strumming crowd. Times had changed. I looked for thee in the wilderness, but thou wast not to be found, and whom was fighting for its very life.

    By the way, I don't think I agree that colloquial speech is necessarily the defining form of language (and I am not sure I know what you mean by "defining form"). That may be increasingly the case with English, at least when it comes to contemporary linguistic scholarship, but it certainly hasn't always been the case (and it is not true of Slovene or, until quite recently, of Russian). There is also a strong conservative undertow in language change, which is created by the written language, particularly as used by writers in the cultural canon, and reinforced by schoolteachers, editors of various kinds, and probably others too, and this is necessary if we are to be able to read and understand the writings of the past, as well as to understand even our contemporaries outside our immediate linguistic community. And I should ask the nasty, though obvious question: which colloquial speech is defining for the language? My Baltimorese? Someone else's Cockney? Another person's Yorkshire speech? Bilby's Strine?

    May 11, 2009

  • By "defining" I mean that colloquial speech is what drives a language, leads its evolution and, ultimately, defines what gets written down. Plenty of words and phrases remain current in the written form after disappearing from common parlance, but they don't linger forever. Contractions like don't are commonplace in modern literature - at least in fiction - but you don't see them in novels of 100 years ago.

    Those dreadful modern bibles you mention are of course deliberate attempts to employ modern speech; for all that I agree that the King James is unique and irreplaceable as a literary artefact, I suspect it's no longer very effective at communicating a message to ordinary, not-especially-literary people. And for most people, the bible, like other texts, is primarily a means to an end - whether the end be evangelical, or instructional, or to transmit a narrative (e.g. bestselling fiction).

    I didn't mean to suggest that some dialects have primacy over others or are somehow more authoritative. I suppose writers must, however, make a conscious or unconscious decision when they set finger to keyboard.

    May 11, 2009

  • I think it is probably true that in modern English, the colloquial style, perhaps especially a kind of non-localized, perhaps American-leaning style with certain colloquial markers (like don't) but not others (like the verbal hiccups like, y'know, etc. or highly marked colloquialisms from specific speech communities) is encroaching on the written language. But I am not sure if this is a natural process. To some degree, perhaps. Over the past few decades, especially since the '70s, literary and journalistic writing has become more focused on a personal, first-person voice, which naturally relies on colloquialisms. This may be because postmodernism (and specifically deconstructionism) has seriously put into question any attempt to convey an impersonal, disinterested, objective viewpoint. In the past, authors usually tried to sound authoritative; today they try to sound approachable. This is to a large degree a matter of taste and the Zeitgeist, and it could well change.

    May 11, 2009

  • *just wants to register that John's comment made her laugh uproariously*

    May 18, 2009

  • Oh! Howl! John reminds me why it is NEVER a good idea to neglect my Wordie duties. And this entire thread reminds me how I got hooked in the first place. Yinz are great!

    Go Stillerz!

    May 19, 2009

  • Also, I'm a fan of whom. It clears things up.

    May 19, 2009

  • Doesn't Thou go before the verb and doesn't Thee go after?

    For Thou, Oh Lord, art high...etc.

    May 19, 2009

  • Yes, thee is the object and thou is the subject. Also, one of my professors in grad school was a Friend--more commonly known among outsiders as "Quakers"--and he and his family still used thee and thou on a daily basis, in normal conversation. So they ain't dead yet. :)

    May 19, 2009

  • C_b, I expect your Friend only used "thee". At some point, Quakers stopped saying "thou" and started using "thee" for both the subject and the object of the sentence, I think with the ø-ending form of the verb: Why are thee taking the car to Meeting? It's only a ten-minute walk! Don't thee know how much gas costs? Not surprisingly, the influence of the double-duty you (as both subjective and objective) is pretty strong. It was pretty jarring when I first heard Quakers talking like this, and it was hard not to "correct" them.

    May 19, 2009

  • Hey! Yeah! That's right, he did use only "thee." I forgot about the urge to "correct" him... Thanks.

    Jeez, I guess grad school was longer ago than I thought. *chaws dentures*

    May 19, 2009

  • On a different note, I just thought of this today.

    Are who and whom the only words in the English language where wh- takes the h sound instead of the w? I suppose there's whore, also, and its derivatives, but otherwise the vast majority of words are the other way. Can anyone think of others? Or give a reason why this is?

    May 30, 2009

  • Whose

    May 30, 2009

  • Good well as whosoever and other relations. Any besides the sisters and the cousins (whom we reckon up by dozens), and the aunts?

    May 30, 2009

  • It's really only who and its kin, with loss of the /w/ by dissimilation before the /o/. This is also probably why very few words in Old English began with /hwo/ or /hwu/. The word who may have been the reason why whole, whore, whoop were given a <w> in their spelling: this is comparatively modern, as all three historically began with /h/ + vowel.

    May 30, 2009

  • Wait whoop? I pronounce this with a w.

    May 31, 2009

  • You do indeed, except perhaps in (w)hooping-cough; however, the /w/ is recent. My mid-century Shorter Oxford only has the /hu:p/ pronunciation—even, startlingly, in whoopee, which it thinks is a homophone of hoopy.

    May 31, 2009

  • Sadly, I've never made hoopy.

    May 31, 2009

  • I can come up with another reason for you to do so Bilby. Or you can wait until Summer.

    June 2, 2009

  • JM states: It's not who you know, it's whom you know.

    July 13, 2011

  • Knock, knock

    Who's there?


    To Who?

    To Whom

    -stolen from reddit who stole it from somewhere else.

    January 1, 2013

  • Erudite discussion of the demise of whom here:

    July 25, 2016