A Stylus reader asked: When do you use who and when do you use whom?

The easy answer is: You hardly ever use whom – don’t worry about it.

The full and very correct answer is:
Pronouns are words that come in different versions depending on the job they do in a sentence. The good news is that if you are a fluent speaker of English you automatically pick the right version.

He saw me
I saw him

She saw them
They saw her

In the sentences above:
I became me
He became him
She became her
They became them
Can you see how these words changed shape when they were after the verb (saw) because they changed from being the subject to the object of the verb?

Who and whom are also two versions of the same word.

You write who when it is the subject of a verb.
You write whom when it is the object of a verb or a preposition.

Who saw you?
Whom did you see? (Because “Did you see whom?” is what this means so whom is the object of see.)
To whom were you talking?

Dennise’s tip: whom and him end in m
If you can put him in the slot, then you write whom
If you’d put he in the slot, you put who

He passed me
I passed him

She hit him
She hit whom? which you would rewrite as By whom was she hit?

Most people will react to whom in those sentences as though you were being far too formal. There are expressions for what they will call you, but not in a family newsletter like this!

Just go on as you are now – and don’t worry about whom, it’s probably doomed anyway.

You can do that!

Dennise Harris


The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion of Poughkeepsie, New York, has run a telephone poll to see what words most annoy Americans.

The word that came out top was whatever when used as a term indicating indifference.

I remember giving a speech at my daughter’s Year 12 farewell on behalf of the mothers of the girls who were leaving and in it I made the point that if I never heard the word whatever again it would be fine with me!

All parents clapped in agreement, and that was six years ago!

So although some of us are tired of it, others are still using it enough to annoy their parents into voting it the most annoying word in New York.

Other expressions and words people hated were at the end of the day and anyway.

It would be interesting to hear from you about the words and expressions you love to hate.

If you’re too busy though, whatever!

A table of detailed results is via http://wwwords.org?MXPO

Commonly confused words

Can you pick the correct word to go into these sentences?

1. I am not (averse / adverse) to his coming over after dinner.
2. I am pretty (ambivalent / ambiguous) about that.
3. They are my (adopted / adoptive) parents.
4. Can you (defuse / diffuse) the tension in this place?
5. The maidens would (wreathe / wreath) the queen’s bedroom with flowers.

(Answers at the end of this edition.)

As mad as a cut snake

Clearly, its meaning is pretty literal.
Chop or cut a snake and, unless it’s dead, it’s not going to be happy.

1. So this expression usually means angry – berserk angry not smouldering angry.

When I reversed into his car he was as mad as a cut snake.
When I set fire to his back yard he was as mad as a cut snake – didn’t take it well at all.

2. Mad can also mean crazy. This expression is also useful then because a cut snake (apart from being cross) is not going to be proceeding in an orderly way along the path. It will look crazy – unpredictable, different from other, non-cut snakes.

When she wears that outfit she looks as mad as a cut snake.
That man over there with all those coat hangers on his head is as mad as a cut snake, poor thing.

Quiz Answers

1. averse
2. ambivalent
3. adoptive
4. defuse
5. wreathe

Just because it’s amazing….what do you think of this queen’s wreaths?

This is part of a mosaic floor depicting Eros and Psyche. For more glorious pictures of mosaics visit the Zeugma Archaeological Dig website. http://www.zeugmaweb.com/zeugma/english/engindex.htm