Many have heard the proverb, “Good things come to those who wait.” But who are these mysterious people who wait? Is it one person or many? Does “who” refer to a singular person or many people?
The word “who” has no plural. It is a pronoun, meaning we use it to replace a noun. It does not have the power to indicate singularity or plurality because it is an interrogative pronoun. We use interrogative pronouns to ask questions, and the plural form of the sentence is indicated through the subject, verb usage, and the object.
While the word “who” might be easy to explain, some forms of the word require extra explanation. Stick around so we can break down the “who’s,” “whose,” and “whoms” of the root word, “who.”
What is “Who” and How is it Used?
“Who” is an interrogative pronoun. As the word interrogative suggests, it is a “question word.” We use interrogative pronouns to ask questions and clarify information that we do not know (source).
We use a pronoun to take the place of a noun. This can be either a proper noun — the name of someone — or a common noun. The most common use of “who” is when it starts a question. For example, “Who are you?”
“Who” can be used in the middle of a sentence as well to give information and introduce a specific type of clause, such as: “I will visit the woman who donated her kidney.” In this scenario, it is a relative pronoun (source).
The part of a sentence that starts with “who” and provides information about the person is called a relative clause. They are easy to identify because the words that appear after the word “who” will always provide more information about the person.
Consider these examples:
- Mary is the girl who won the game.
- I know he is someone who will never give up.
- John, who was 82, has just passed away.
By examining these examples, you can easily see that the words that follow “who” tell us more about the subject of the sentence.
Is “Who” Singular or Plural?
“Who” is the interrogative word used to ask about a person or a name. For example, “Who is coming to dinner?”
You can respond to this sort of question with the name of a person or persons: “John is coming to dinner,” or with a common noun that can be singular or plural, such as “The neighbors are coming to dinner.”
Therefore, it’s quite easy to see why “who” is not exactly a plural form of a word. Other words, including auxiliary verbs, the subject of the sentence, and object, need to be plural to indicate plurality. But we can use “who” for singular and plural forms.
When thinking about plural words in a sentence, you may want more information about how many can be used in a sentence. To learn more, read “Can Two Plural Words be used in a Sentence?”
Plural of Whom
There is no plural form for “whom.” Similar to “who,” “whom” is also an interrogative pronoun that can refer to a singular or plural subject.
If we can replace the subject with the pronouns “him,” “her,” or “them,” then “whom” is the correct form.
Who and Whose: How and When to Use Them
We already know what “who” means, but what does “whose” mean? First, “whose” should not be confused with “who’s,” which is a contraction of “who is” or “who has.” We use “who is/has” the exact same way as “who” but in the present tense.
“Whose” is a possessive pronoun used to indicate possession in both an interrogative or declarative sentence.
In its interrogative form, “whose” is generally used to start the question. Some examples are as follows:
- Whose house is this?
- Whose phone is better?
- You and whose army?
The example sentences above show that the word “whose” is usually followed by a noun. Since “whose” is possessive, it needs to indicate what object is being possessed, hence the noun that always follows it.
When “whose” is used in a declarative sentence, otherwise known as a statement, its usage is quite different. While it still functions as a pronoun, it is not used to ask a question, but rather to inform the reader about the owner of the noun.
When we were hacked, we did not know whose identities were compromised.
I need to figure out whose house this is because I want to buy it.
I have a brother whose ambition is to be a YouTuber.
As with the interrogative sentences, we still must follow the word “whose” with a noun. “Whose” and “who’s” are not too difficult to tell apart, and the easiest and best strategies are below.
“Whose” is always followed by a noun, while “who’s” is followed by a verb. Since “who has” and “who is” are usually asking some kind of question, they will be followed by a verb.
Who’s (who is) coming to dinner?
Who’s (who has) decided which restaurant we’re going to?
Whose house are we going to for dinner?
Knowing which part of speech follows the “who’s” or “whose,” is a quick way to check if you’re using it correctly.
It helps to remove the contraction of the “who’s” to see if it is used correctly. Let’s look at an example sentence where “who’s” is used incorrectly:
Who’s lunch is this?
By breaking this sentence down to “Who is lunch is this?” you can easily see that the sentence doesn’t make sense and, hence, the other “whose” should be used here instead.
Let’s try another example.
Whose house are we going to?
While “whose” is being used, we can still try breaking this sentence down as if it was to confirm if we are right. Would “Who is house are we going to” make sense? Since the answer is no, we know we have the correct form.
Plural of Whose
“Whose,” like its other compatriots within the “who” family, does not have a plural form. It can represent either plural or singular forms, but the sentence’s verbs and nouns will indicate whether it is singular or plural.
Using “Who” and” Whom”
“Who” vs. “whom” is a common confusion for even native English speakers, and many people are never quite sure when to use “who” and when “whom” is more appropriate.
“Whom” has become an almost archaic term, and many people do not use it when speaking or writing, but the word does have space in the English language.
English teachers often suggest a few quick mental tricks to ensure that students use “who” and “whom” correctly.
We should replace the pronouns “he” and “she” with “who.” If the words “him” or “her” are used, then “whom” is the correct way to go (source).
Let’s break down the technical aspects of this.
We use “who” to refer to the subject of a sentence, which would follow a three-sentence process.
- Nancy is a smart person.
- She is a smart person.
- Who is a smart person?
With these examples, you can see that by referring to a specific person, it is easy to understand why the word “who” should be used. This same technique would also work when using “who” as a relative pronoun.
Understanding when to use “whom” is a little trickier, but far from impossible. From a technical perspective, we use “whom” to replace an object of a verb or preposition.
To work out when to use “whom,” you have to use it in a question or statement and think about the answer or the response that one would expect.
To whom are you writing the letter?
I don’t know whom to take to the wedding.
Since you would respond to these questions with something like “I am writing the letter to her,” or, “You should take him to the wedding,” you will know that your usage of “whom” is correct.
Plural forms can also be used in a response, such as “You can take them to the wedding.”
The second strategy is easy, but it does require a basic understanding of parts of speech. First, identify all of the verbs in the sentence (colored in red). The second step is to find the subject that correlates with the verb (in purple).
Essentially, you are looking for active and passive sentences. If the subject is doing the verb, then use “who.” If the subject is having the verb done to them, then use “whom.”
Let’s look at a few examples:
Jacob is crying because he burned his pizza.
In this sentence, Jacob (the subject) is crying (the verb), so “who” would be correct.
Who is crying?
Jacob, who was crying, has burned his pizza.
To compare, let’s look at a passive sentence, where the subject has the action done to them:
The pizza was burned by Jacob.
The pizza was burned by whom?
This trick is quite an easy one for those who have not forgotten basic English grammar tenets, but we have one more trick that could help you.
The final trick is the preposition rule. It is not fail-proof, but most of the time, it should help you to guess whether to use “who” or “whom” if the previous methods have not worked for you.
Generally, you will notice the use of a preposition just before the word “whom.” A preposition indicates the subject’s relationship to the object (source).
Since “whom” is more appropriate in passive sentences because the subject appears after the verb, it also places the subject after the preposition.
One of Hemingway’s more famous novels, For Whom the Bell Tolls, is a great example of the usage of “whom” after a preposition. Still, you will also see it in 99% of sentences when “whom” is used within the sentence as a relative pronoun and not as an interrogative pronoun.
Another book that will help you understand prepositions is Dreyer’s English, an excellent style guide to all your finicky grammar questions. Available on Amazon, it’s even better than a Google search because the answers are incredibly easy-to-understand.
Other examples of sentences which use “whom” as a relative pronoun just after a preposition (in orange) are as follows:
She didn’t know a lot about the woman with whom she was working.
To whom do you wish to speak?
Who cares about whom?
“Who” and “whom” should not be too difficult, and when in doubt, say the sentence out loud, and use the one that sounds the most correct. While that method is not perfect, you’ll begin to get a sense for which sounds like it makes more sense.
Who vs. Whom for a Group
We can use “whom” for a group of people when the pronoun it is referring to is “them.” The same points from strategy one can be followed to use “whom” correctly for a group.
- To whom are you writing?
- I am writing to my parents.
- About whom are you speaking?
- I am speaking about the team.
Since the common nouns, “parents” and “team” can be replaced with the pronoun “them,” the use of the word “whom” is correct.
Here is another example:
- Who is coming over in the morning?
- My book club will be here at 10 am for brunch.
In this example, “whom” would be incorrect. Since the pronoun used to replace
“my book club” would be “they,” then the relative pronoun “who” should be used.
We have examined many forms of the root word “who.” These tips and tricks are good ways to check your writing. Speaking and writing correctly is always important, and it’s important to know when you’re using the right forms for these words.
Whether it is “who,” “whom,” or “whose,” who can deny that English is an interesting language?