Whomever or Whoever: What’s the Difference?
If you’re confused about when to use whomever or whoever, you’re not alone. In today’s post, we’ll explain the difference between whomever and whoever and how you can determine which one to use.
Who and Whom
Whoever and whomever take their forms from who and whom, two words that belong to a time when many words in the English language were highly inflected – that is, they changed form depending on their position in a sentence.
As English continues to evolve, whomever is increasingly being passed over in place of whoever, especially in informal writing and speech. Nonetheless, as a freelance proofreader or editor, it’s important to understand the difference between the two, as they are still used in formal writing.
Whoever and Whomever: What’s the Difference?
Understanding the difference between whomever and whoever requires us to look at their basic forms:
- Whom and whomever are object pronouns that refer to the object of either a preposition or a verb. In a sentence, they function in the same way as me, him, her, us, and them.
- Who and whoever, in contrast, are subject pronouns that refer to the subject of a verb. In a sentence, they function in the same way as I, he, she, we, and they.
When To Use Who and Whom
To identify which is the correct option to use, one simple technique is to use who when it can be replaced by he/she and whom when it can be replaced by him/her:
Who is playing? (can be replaced by he/she)
The boy talked to whom? (can be replaced by him/her)
But things can get tricky when the pronoun appears later in the sentence. Let’s try the replacement technique on these two sentences:
Give this to candidates who are interested.
Give this to candidates whom we interviewed.
The technique falls apart here. However, we can follow the jigsaw technique instead. Single out the essential part of the sentence and rearrange it to avoid using who or whom.
Who are interested → He/she is interested.
Whom we interviewed → We interviewed him/her.
When to Use Whoever and Whomever
As for whoever or whomever, the good news is, there’s only a small difference! Generally, if the pronoun is followed by a verb, we use whoever. If it’s followed by anything else, we use whomever.
The managers praised whoever did well.
The committee will help whomever they know.
We will vote for whomever, among the candidates, the experts recommend.
The stakeholders will back whoever, in their right mind, can push this ambitious project.
Notice how the same rule applies even when the pronoun isn’t immediately followed by a verb. The trick is to identify the word to which the pronoun (whoever or whomever) is syntactically related.
It’s also worth mentioning that whomever’s is a common mistake for whosever—the traditional possessive pronoun of whoever—or its colloquial alternative, whoever’s. Regardless, don’t be afraid to edit the sentence for clarity.
The government should investigate whosever status is in question.
Whoever’s project is better will qualify for the finals.
Becoming A Proofreader
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