For him the bell tolls

You knew this one was coming. After all, what kind of language/usage/grammar/ random thoughts blog would this be if I failed to cover who versus whom.

Before you click the back button, please forbear and be patient. Our exploration of who versus whom will be painless. Trust me. There will be no discussion of direct and indirect objects. No figuring out the subject or the object in the sentence. And no one is diagramming anything.

In fact, there’s a really easy way to tell when you should who or whom in a sentence. If we had only been taught this in school . . .

Consider the following sentence:

Who do you consider the best composer?

Should it be who or whom?

Figure it out by turning the sentence around and replacing the who or whom with he or him. If he is wrong, so is who. If him is wrong, so is whom.

Do you consider him the best composer?
Do you consider he the best composer?

Since him is correct, use whom.

Whom do you consider the best composer?

Thanks to Edith Schwager — author of Medical English Usage and Abusage — for this exercise. If only all complicated usage questions could be answered so easily. (I’m talking to you, serial comma.)

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