Tag Archives: ESL

Who v. Whom

This is one of the elements of English grammar that has always thrown me. I usually say “Who” regardless, because I think constructions like “To whom have you been speaking” sound ridiculous.

But now my Oxford Seminar course has given me a great test, so at least I’ll know if I’m incorrect, and then I can just be brazen about it.

While whom is sometimes disregarded as antiquated British English, it is actually the object case for the pronoun who. Although native English speakers often use who for both the subject and object cases of the pronoun, this is not strictly correct.

Consider the following question:

Who opened the door? or Whom opened the door?

An appropriate response to the question is “He opened the door.” As a subject-case pronoun was used in the response, the question should be posed “Who opened the door?”.

So, did you get that?

If I have a question like “Who opened the door?”, to test my “who/whom” choice, I would think about the answer. In this case “Him opened the door” would not work. The correct statement would be “He opened the door.”

He –> Who

Him –> Whom (notice that “m” ending)

So here’s a test:

Who/Whom did I give my letter to?

Hint: The answer is “her.” I gave my letter to her. So “Whom” would be correct for my question—although I would never say this outside of an English class because it sounds ridiculous to my commoner’s ear.

“To whom did I give the letter?”

Nope, I’m still going to say: Who did I give the letter to?

Yes, you can end a sentence with a preposition!

I’m taking the Oxford Seminar TEFL course, and yesterday I learned about the proper use of prepositions.

Some grammar sticklers have cat fits when you end a sentence with a preposition, but I’ve noticed that there are just times when the language becomes stilted and archaic not to do so.

Enter the phrasal verb. This little guy is causing all the trouble. He is at the root of many a bad argument between editors and writers, and not a few hurt feelings!

My training manual explains:

In English grammar, a phrasal verb is a group of words that consists of a verb plus an adverbial or prepositional participle. If you eliminate any component of the phrasal verb, you cannot interpret the intended meaning.

I like their examples too:

Most bullies back down if confronted. (This works!)
Most bullies back. (This does not work.)
Most bullies down. (This does not work.)
Must bullies back down. (Yep, there’s that preposition, and it works!)

There are many, many, many phrasal verbs in English.

Here are a few:

act up
ask out
bring up
back off
check out
chip in
drop off
drop out
eat out
egg on
face up to
find out
give up
grow up

You get the idea. And I bet you can think of many instances where we would use these at the end of our sentences.

The only time it is incorrect to use a preposition at the end of your sentence is when you leave the thought unfinished.

Their example is:

“She is going to come with.”

This is incorrect because the thought has been left unfinished.

When I was growing up in Texas, I always heard constructions like this:

Where are you going to be at?

Here the “at” is unnecessary. The correct version is: “Where are you going to be?”

But “Your raft is on fire; you should jump off!” is perfectly acceptable.

Oxford Seminars advises:

If you’re in doubt about whether or not a sentence is grammatically correct with a preposition at the end, try to rewrite the sentence and change the preposition. If the result is grammatically incorrect or is incomprehensible, then it is generally acceptable to revert to your original phrasing and end the sentence with a preposition.