Nothing makes you sound stupider than trying too hard to sound smart. (OK, maybe not nothing, but allow me my indignation.) This is why it pains me every time I hear someone use “I” when he should say “me” and “whom” when it ought to be “who.” I can forgive innocent misuse in the kinds of complex grammatical scenarios that call for the I/me and who/m determinations. But there are too often instances when it’s clear the speaker is trying to prove intelligence by opting for the smarter-sounding choice, and it veritably reeks of desperation.
You don’t want to be this person. And I don’t want you to be, either, which is why I’ve provided this handy guide for when to whom and whether to I.
The two pairs are fairly analogous, and their use can be guided by the same simple principle. You use “I” and “who” like he, she, they, we, and you use “me” and “whom” like him, her, them and us. The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage describes it rather succinctly:
Use who in the sense of he, she or they: Pat L. Milori, who was appointed to fill the vacancy, resigned. (He or she was appointed.) Use whom in the sense of him, her or them: Pat L. Milori, whom the board recommended, finally got the job. (The board recommended him or her.) The same test applies to whoever and whomever: Whoever wins will collect $64. (He or she wins.) Whomever you ask will provide directions. (You ask her or him.)
The idea, if you want to get into the whys, is that of subject versus object. In grammar a subject does things, an object has things done to it. Read on for a detailed explanation.
“I” is a subject pronoun:
I went to the store.
It’s just like he, or she, or they or we:
He went to the store. She went with him. They bought a PS3. We played Guitar Hero for hours.
“Who” can function in place of these subject pronouns:
The true gamers, who had been playing Guitar Hero since the first one came out, beat the whole game on expert. (They beat the whole game on expert.)
Now onto “me.” “Me” is an object pronoun. “Me” can’t do things the way “I” can do things. “Me” is the receiver of an action:
Take a picture of me.
(IMPORTANT NOTE: It’s “Take a picture of him and me,” not, “Take a picture of him and I.” You wouldn’t say, “Take a picture of I,” would you? Of course not.)
“Me” is like him, her, them or us. Try it:
Send her flowers. Take a picture of her.
And, yup, this is where fuddy-duddy ol’ “whom” gets a turn:
That’s the chick whom I sent a dozen roses. (I sent her roses.)
Rachel? Whom you took all those pictures of in the shower? (You took pictures of her. In the shower.)
Don’t be ignorant, it’s the one of whom I took all those pictures in the shower.
Still with me? If so, here’s a summary cheat sheet…
Use “I” when:
-The “I” is doing an action
-You would use he, she, they or we
Use “who” when:
-The “who” is doing an action
-You would use he, she, they, we or I
Use “me” when:
-The “me” is the receiver of an action
-You would use him, her, them or us
-After a preposition (such as to, at or for)
Use “whom” when:
-The “whom” is the receiver of an action
-You would use him, her, them, us or me
-After a preposition
Good luck out there!