Editor’s Corner: Grammar Snob Alert! Who vs. Whom Demonstrates Usage in Transition

by Andrew Guinn, Graveyard Newsroom Supervisor, Business Wire Nashville

Andrew Guinn

by Andrew Guinn, Newsroom Supervisor, BW Nashville

Who vs. whom, which is it? 

 “Look it up.”

This was my fellow university newspaper staffers’ reply to a grammar question, accompanied by an AP Manual flying toward my head.  I’m far from an expert, so, when confronted with the question of who or whom, I looked it up… and found confusion.

Why?  Apparently we’ve changed how particular we are about the correct usage and now find whom awkward in some instances – mostly when our misuse is corrected.  

In a typical press release, the sentence structure is simple and doesn’t call for complication.  The characters you write about are usually getting hired or promoted, maybe sued, so the trick for determining which usage is correct revolves around this: Who is a subject and whom is an object.  Or, who does stuff while stuff happens to whom

 Who came up with this idea?  We, they, he or she came up with this idea.

 We can’t tell for whom the package is.  Awkward, isn’t it?  But correct useage tell us the package is for them, us, her or him.

If the people being replaced in your sentence are committing the action, they are replaced with who.  If they’re just there, near the action, replace them with whom.

 Give this to someone who knows how to use it.  Even if it’s not an actual action.

 Without an address, we didn’t know to whom the package belonged.  Guess it’s for us.

 Whoever and whomever work in the same manner.

 Whoever finds the keys gets a reward.  If he or she finds the keys.

 We will look for the keys in the pockets of whomever we meet.  We meet them.

Some of these feel strange to say.  If you saw a birthday cake in your break room, would you ask, “For whom is this cake?”  Or, would you ask, “Who’s the cake for?” 

Will there be a “grammar snob” around who is still willing to correct us?  I wouldn’t count on it.  But, why wait on someone else when you can do it yourself?

With 31 bureaus around the world and more newsrooms than all of our competitors combined, Business Wire is proud to provide local expertise and superior service, backed by the most accurate editors in the world. In Editor’s Corner, we ask some of our best to chime in on how to get the most out of your press release, based on their years of experience in the industry.

4 Responses to Editor’s Corner: Grammar Snob Alert! Who vs. Whom Demonstrates Usage in Transition

  1. Hi Andrew,
    This may be the best explanation on the proper usage of who/whom that I have read. Thanks for sharing.

    • Andrew Guinn says:

      Thank you, Peter… If my past English teachers were to read this, I feel they’d demand to know who this person posing as Andrew Guinn is.

  2. You write: “This was my fellow university newspaper staffers’ reply to a grammar question.” Was it one staffer or several staffers?

  3. Aline Kaplan says:

    Perhaps in reaction to this confusion, I notice more people replacing “who” with “that” in both writing and speech. This objectifies human beings but should not be surprising given that we also now refer to individuals as “them” to avoid using the singular “him or her.” I often wonder what’s being taught in English classes these days. Or if they are still teaching English classes.

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