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See also: WHO



From Old English hwā (dative hwām, genitive hwæs), from Proto-Germanic *hwaz, from Proto-Indo-European *kʷos, *kʷis. Compare West Frisian wa, Dutch wie, German wer.



who (singular or plural, nominative case, possessive whose, objective case whom)

(Note that who is usually used instead of whom, especially in informal contexts.)

  1. (interrogative pronoun) What person or people; which person or people (used in a direct or indirect question).
    Who is that? (direct question)
    I don't know who it is. (indirect question)
  2. (relative pronoun) The person or people that.
    It was a nice man who helped us.

Usage notes[edit]

Whom is an object pronoun, while who is both a subject and object pronoun. One would never use whom as the subject of a verb though who is commonly used as an object. One method to use to determine correctness of who vs. whom is to rephrase the sentence to eliminate who or whom in favor of he, him, she, her, they or them. If you would have used he, she, or they, in place of the word, then who is the correct word; if you would have used him, her, or them, then either who or whom is correct. The exception is when it is the object of a fronted prepositional phrase in a question or relative clause, in which case whom is almost always used (e.g., With whom (not who) did you go?).

The forms whoever and whomever usually belong to two clauses: an internal clause and an external clause. In "Whoever undertakes to set himself up as judge in the field of truth and knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods", the verb of the internal clause is undertakes and the verb of the external clause is is shipwrecked. The case of who(m)ever is determined by the internal clause: the nominative (subjective) case whoever is used because it is the subject of the verb undertakes. The subject of the external clause is not actually whoever by itself, but rather the entire internal clause: if we allow the variable X to stand for the internal clause, the external clause is "X is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods". If an internal clause is the object of an external clause, the case of who(m)ever is still determined by its role in the internal clause, for example: "Let whoever is without sin cast the first stone". Here, the external clause is "Let X cast the first stone" and the internal clause is "whoever is without sin". Whoever is the subject of the internal clause, so it is in the nominative case. Even though X in the external clause is the object (compare "Let him cast the first stone), it is the internal clause that decides whether whoever or whomever is correct. "Let whomever is without sin cast the first stone" is thus strictly speaking incorrect (although such constructions are widely encountered).

When "who" (or the other relative pronouns "that" and "which") is used as the subject of a relative clause, the verb agrees with the antecedent of the pronoun. Thus "I who am...", "He who is...", "You who are...", etc.



who (plural whos)

  1. A person under discussion; a question of which person.
    • 2008 March 21, The New York Times, “Movie Guide and Film Series”, New York Times:
      A wham-bam caper flick, efficiently directed by Roger Donaldson, that fancifully revisits the mysterious whos and speculative hows of a 1971 London bank heist.