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Shh, It’s You Know Who…or Whom

Why we flounder at knowing "whom" we are

A pricture of Tom Baker as Dr Who
Dr Who...or should that be Dr Whom?

Recently I was asked which of the following sentences were grammatically correct:

1) "I'm using products from Company X, who I'm partnering with.”

2) "I'm using products from Company X, whom I'm partnering with."

To be clear, this was not a question about the originality of the partner company’s name. It was the relative pronoun. Simply put, whether to use who or whom.

Many of us will have stumbled over a sentence like this at some point. First, we add the m. Then we delete it. Then add it again. Wracking our brains for some rule we should be following.

And therein lies the problem.

We think of grammar as a set of rules. That the word of grammar is law. This is largely down to the way most of us have been taught. English Grammar is delivered by diktat. We are told what is correct. The why is inconsequential.

As children, we accept the word of our elders without question. Our mature brains look for logic. We flounder when it can’t be found. And long live confusion.

The pronoun context

Let’s step back a little.

The word “who” is an interrogative pronoun. So what is a pronoun?

A pronoun is simply a substitution for a proper noun. It helps us vary the language we use when speaking or writing. It minimises repetition. And that's it. Without pronouns, language could carry on wihout any difficulty.

(Though the current debate over self-selected personal pronouns is important for other reasons, it is, grammatically, a needless debate. We all have a personal pronoun we can use. It is our name.)

We created pronoun variants to simplify the rules we had already created for ourselves in grammars. One can’t help but think there are easier ways to make life easier. So each singular, plural and gender-specific pronoun has several variants. The most common are a subject form to be used when ‘it’ is 'doing the doing'. And an object form, when ‘the doing is being done’ to ‘it’.

Still with me? Even without this background, knowing whether to use the subject or object pronoun is instinctive for most of us. The interrogative ‘who’ and ‘whom’ follow the same rules. Instead of trying to remember something new, the easiest way to check which form to use is to refer to what you already know. Then choose the correct version from the corresponding family.

A tabke of pronouns
Subject or Object

Taking our original query, 'I am partnering with Company X’ would become 'I am partnering with them'.

If it were a person as opposed to a company, you would be ‘partnering with Brian’. This would become ‘I am partnering with him’.

In these examples, it is unlikely you would be puzzling over whether it should be 'partnering with they or he'.