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Learners' Questions

Intermediate level

‘Who’, ‘whom’ and ‘whose’?

Episode 200225 / 25 Feb 2020

This week's question

What’s the difference between ‘who’, ‘whom’ and ‘whose’? - Rodolfo from Brazil

Answer this

Complete the sentence: "The student ______ (who, whom, whose) dog has run away, has gone to look for it."

Language points

Question words:

Who, whom and whose are interrogative pronouns.

Who asks about a person and works as a subject or an object. 

  • Welcome to BBC Learning English. Who do you know?

Whom asks about a person but only when it is an object - it's an object pronoun. It's quite formal and it's used more in writing. When you write to a company but you don't know to which person to send it to, you write at the top: To Whom It May Concern.

Whom is often used with a preposition (very formal): 

  • To whom did you speak yesterday?

Whose is a question word and is used to ask about possession. It functions like 'my', 'his' 'her' etc and it must be followed by a noun.

  • Whose phone is this? 

Relative clauses:

There are two types of relative clauses: defining relative clauses (specify which noun we are talking about) and non-defining relative clauses (add extra, non-essential, information to a noun.

Who and whom are relative pronouns that represent a person within a relative clause.

Who is a personal pronoun in a relative clause and can be used as the subject or object.

  • The person who lives uplstairs is very noisy. (who is the subject)
  • John's the guy who you met yesterday. (who is the object)

Whom is the object form of who. It represents a person that is the object of the relative clause. Whom is mostly formal and mostly used in a written style.

  • The person whom I spoke to denied making noise.

The position of the preposition is important for formality. For the most formal version, put the preposition before whom.

  • The person to whom I spoke denied making noise.

Whose is used to talk about possessions. It's a prossessive relative pronoun and it must be followed by a noun.

  • I know a baker whose cakes are delicious. (a person's possession)
  • It's the story of a dog whose best friend is a cat! (an animal's 'possession')
  • That's the tree whose branches look like a ghost! (an object's 'possession')

The answer

"The student whose dog has run away, has gone to look for it."

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