When I was given the opportunity to start writing for the Grammar Hammer blog, the first person I thought of was my grandfather. Lt. Col. W. A. Rawl (1912-2007) was an English teacher at Greenbrier Military School. If I were to ever use improper grammar in front of my grandfather, it was met with a stern, but loving look. He’d say, “Now, granddaughter, the correct term is ‘regardless.’ ‘Irregardless’ is a double negative, and not even a word.” (Double negatives were a particular sticking point with Grandpa.)
Lately, the grammar rule that I’ve been stumbling over in my own writing is who vs. whom. I haven’t had to recite chapter and verse on grammar rules since junior high. I know it’s wrong when I see it, I just don’t always remember the precise rules on WHY it’s wrong. I had to reeducate myself on rules using who vs. whom and whose job it is to remember those rules.
What I do remember – who and whom are both pronouns. I also remember that one of them refers to an object and the other refers to a subject. Use “who” when referring to the subject of a clause and use “whom” when referring to the object of a clause. Grammar Girl offers a great “quick and dirty” tip on when to use who vs. whom (and as someone who is always on deadline, I appreciate any tips that make my job easier and keep me from looking stupid).
“When you’re trying to decide whether to use ‘who’ or ‘whom,’ ask yourself if the answer to the question would be ‘he’ or ‘him.’ If you can answer the question being asked with ‘him,’ then use ‘whom.’”
“With whom did you talk about your first Grammar Hammer column?” The answer would be “I talked with him.” (well, not really, since Grandpa is long gone, but you get my point.) Whom and him both end with “m,” so you know to use “whom.”
If I ask “Who stepped on my flowers?” the answer is “He stepped on my flowers.” No “m,” so you know to use “who.”
I hope the Colonel would be proud of my first column for Grammar Hammer, regardless of the fact that I had to look up the grammar rules.
Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services for PR Newswire.
(Photo courtesy of The Greenbrier Military School Alumni Association – http://www.gmsaa.org)