How do I choose between ‘who’ or ‘whom’ when the subject pronoun is unclear?

A friend needs help with his who and whom

Right on the heels of my recent question regarding why ‘who’ and ‘whom’ present difficulties for so many native and non-native learners, comes another complex case of ‘who’ and ‘whom’.

The language of a friend’s report is bureaucratically complicated and his Supervising Teacher, is very pedantic that the English should be absolutely grammatically correct, which includes the prescriptive use of ‘who’ and ‘whom’.

This means that the excellent generic advice

“use who in every case and always avoid whom

cannot, unfortunately, be applied here. Many grammatically pedantic non-native teachers in my country insist on the proper use of ‘whom’, especially in official reports and dissertations.

My friend therefore needs a reliable practical approach (that can be applied in any given case) to decide whether ‘who’ or ‘whom’ should be employed in a particular situation.

When does it get complicated?

Problems arise when the sentence does not obviously require a subject pronoun, and the concerned verb is moreover not obviously transitive, making it difficult to decide whether it needs an object pronoun. Again, when the sentence has multiple verbs and clauses, where does one look for an indication as to whether it needs a subject pronoun or an object pronoun?

Appendix: Example sentences from my friend’s report

I have extracted one relevant passage to better illustrate the problem. N.B this is not a request for proofreading.

"A study of employee expectations regarding future confirmation in Government service, with special emphasis on the ethical aspects in the subjects’ claim that long-term provisional employment is a virtual promise of future confirmation":

This special short project conducted a detailed case study of 5 typical auxiliary health care workers who(m) the Government has instructed Heads of Department to terminate from long-standing provisional employment.

The Department of Public Health had allotted special allowances for all subjects who(m) the Supervising Teacher considered deserving of compensatory remuneration for their time and effort spent participating in this project.

Mr.A, who(m) the academic committee had originally advised against, was however selected as the 5th subject due to a lack of other ‘typical’ cases.

The Supervising Teacher Mrs.B later raised an objection regarding payment of the special allowance to Mr.A, who(m) she had expressed reservations about in writing, leading to his initial disqualification by the academic committee, although he was subsequently selected and did actually participate as a subject of the study.

The Head of the Accounts Department delivered the official opinion that a person who(m) the Supervising Teacher had specifically shown a reluctance towards nominating as a subject of the study could not be considered for the award of any special allowance.


First of all, each of the examples given in the body of your question should be “whom.”

This is a holdover from when the English language had cases, which you sort of referenced by noting the difficulty in identifying a subject. Who is always a subject, while whom is either a direct object, indirect object, or object of preposition:

1) Whom did you kill? (DO)
2) To whom did you give the book? (IO)
3) Who is the person about whom you are talking? (ObjP)

If it is difficult to tell by looking at the original sentence, try moving the who/whom in the sentence to see whether it holds an object position:

1) …the Government has instructed Heads of Department to terminate whom from long-standing provisional employment.

2)…the Supervising Teacher considered whom deserving of compensatory remuneration…

3)…the academic committee had originally advised against whom

4)…she had expressed reservations about whom in writing…

5)…the Supervising Teacher had specifically shown a reluctance towards nominating whom

It may initially feel weird performing this kind of move operation, but if you can’t immediately see whether the who/whom is acting as an object or not, then this is the easiest way to disambiguate that.

Source : Link , Question Author : English Student , Answer Author : MAA

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