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The English language is full of pairs of words that seem similar, yet reveal how easily they can confuse its speakers. One such pair is whoever and whomever—how do we know when to use each?

To give you a solid understanding of when to use whoever or whomever, let’s first review the basic structure of a sentence. 

How Do You Find the Subject and Object of a Sentence?

Every complete sentence consists of a subject and a verb. The subject is the person or thing doing the action. The verb is the action that the subject is performing. 

Sometimes, (but not all the time) a sentence may also have an object, or the person or thing to which something is being done. 

For example, in the sentences below: 

Sentence: The baby crawled.
Subject: The baby
Verb: crawled

Sentence: The girl laughed. 
Subject: The girl
Verb: laughed 

Now, the following sentences have an object to which the action is done: 

Sentence: The boy threw the ball. 
Subject: The boy
Verb: threw
Object: the ball

Sentence: Sheila likes ice cream. 
Subject: Sheila
Verb: likes
Object: ice cream

Sentence: The teacher asked Bob to throw the trash out. 
Subject: The teacher
Verb: asked
Object: Bob 

Subjective and Objective Pronouns 

Pronouns are words used to replace a noun, and they change their form depending on whether they function as a subject or as an object in a sentence. 

Replacing the nouns in our previous example, we get: 

Sentence: He threw the ball. 
Subject: He
Verb: threw
Object: the ball

Sentence: She likes ice cream. 
Subject: she
Verb: likes
Object: ice cream

Sentence: She asked him to throw the trash out. 
Subject: She
Verb: asked
Object: him

When Should You Use Whomever?

Now that you understand the difference between a subject and object, you can easily decide whether to use whoever or whomever (as well as who or whom).

The pronoun “who” is used to replace the subject in a sentence, while the pronoun “whom” is used to replace the object.

In the examples below, see how we used the words “who” and “whom” to turn the sentences into a question:  

  • The boy threw the ball. —> Who threw the ball? 
  • Sheila likes ice cream. —> Who likes ice cream? 
  • The teacher asked Bob to throw the trash out. —> Who asked Bob to throw the trash out? OR: Whom did the teacher ask to throw the trash out? 

The first two sentence are straightforward: because they only have a subject and a verb, we can easily replace the subject with “who.” 

In the third example, we used “who” to replace “The teacher,” which functions as a subject. Then, when we wanted to replace “Bob,” we used “whom” because Bob functions as the object in the sentence. 

Similarly, whoever is used as a subject, while whomever is used an an object in a sentence. 

To help you see how to use whoever and whomever, here are two basic rules to remember:

Rule #1. Use whoever as the subject, whomever as the object. 

This rule is easy to follow when the sentence has a clear-cut subject and object, as below: 

Give the letter to [whoever / whomever].
Give the letter to him
Give the letter to whomever

[Whoever / Whomever] took the parcel shared it with the street children at the park.
He took the parcel and shared it with the street children at the park. 
Whoever took the parcel shared it with the street children at the park.

The policeman absentmindedly waved to [whoever / whomever]. 
The policeman absently waved to him.
The policeman absently waved to whomever. 

Using this principle, you can usually determine whether to use whoever or whomever by replacing the word first with a subjective/objective pronoun (I/him, he/him, she/her) as in the examples below: 

[Whoever / whomever] can help pack the goods should sign up to help. 
(He who) can help pack the goods should sign up to help.
Whoever can help pack the goods should sign up to help. 

[Whoever / whomever] spreads fake news can get in big trouble. 
(He) who spreads fake news can get in big trouble. 
Whoever spreads fake news can get in big trouble. 

Rule #2. If the word occurs in a dependent clause, use the word that agrees with the clause. 

Because the words whoever and whomever usually come in a dependent clause, you need to pick this out and determine whether a subjective or objective word can be used. 

For example: 

Report the incident to [whoever / whomever] is at the police office. 
… (he) is at the police office. 
Report the incident to whoever is at the police office. 

Tell [whoever / whomever] answers the phone that we are on our way. 
she who answers the phone…
Tell whoever answers the phone that we are on our way. 

The police are looking for [whoever / whomever] posted fake news about the coronavirus. 
they posted fake news about the coronavirus. 
The police are looking for whoever posted fake news about the coronavirus. 

I want to give a bonus to [whoever / whomever] you recommend. 
… you recommend him.
I want to give a bonus to whomever you recommend. 

If you’re unsure, here’s a quick fix:

With these two rules, you should have an easier time figuring out whether you need to use whoever or whomever. But what if you’re still uncertain?

Well, you have two options. First, you can install a grammar app, like Grammarly, to help check your sentences.

Or, you can work around the word to make the sentence work without having to use whoever or whomever.

For example, take a look at this next sentence:

Wow, I need to meet [whoever / whomever] baked these brownies, they’re so yummy!

Clearly, the subject is “I,” and the verb is “need,” and what I need to do in this sentence is “to meet,” making the infinitive “to meet” as the object of the verb. So which word do we use? Whoever or whomever?

Let’s try replacing the word with our pronoun: 

Wow, I need to meet [she/her]. 

Obviously, we will use “her,” making the sentence: “I need to meet her.”

But because the word comes with the dependent clause “who baked these brownies,” it becomes a bit complicated. The correct pronoun for the dependent clause is: 

… “she baked these brownies.” 

Right?  

If we follow the first sentence, “I need to meet her,” it can become: “I need to meet whomever baked these brownies.” 

But, taking the second rule of making the word agree with the dependent clause, “she baked these brownies” should it be, “I need to meet whoever baked these brownies”? 

Either way, it sounds a bit awkward, doesn’t it? 

To avoid looking foolish, one way to get around confusing sentences like these is to skip using whoever or whomever altogether. You can actually rephrase this into: 

  • Wow, I need to meet the girl who baked these brownies, they’re so yummy!
  • Wow, I need to meet the mom who baked these brownies, they’re so yummy! 

Whoever vs. Whomever Quiz

Now that you have a good grasp of whether to use whoever or whomever, test your knowledge with the quiz below: 

  1. [Whoever / Whomever] planted the flowers at the Yankee soldier’s grave should be commended. 
  2. All right, children, I’m giving [whoever / whomever] is first to sit at the front a nice big prize. 
  3. Listen, [whoever / whomever] finishes the 21k gets a finisher’s medal, so whatever you do, don’t stop! 
  4. [Whoever / whomever] wrote this book is an absolute genius!
  5. Show [whoever / whomever] is interested around the museum. 
  6. [Whoever / whomever] it was that made this video must have made a lot of money by now. 
  7. Give [whoever / whomever] is at the nursing home a glass of milk every morning, OK?
  8. The horse kicked and thrashed, hitting [whoever / whomever] had entered the barn. 
  9. It’s our culture for boys to give [whoever / whomever] he likes flowers and candy.  
  10. [Whoever / Whomever] owes money on his rent should be the first to initiate payment. 

You can also print our downloadable Whoever vs. Whomever Quiz for your own practice or to give to your students.

Answers: 

  1. Whoever planted the flowers at the Yankee soldier’s grave should be commended. 
    • This is the subject of the sentence. 
  2. All right, children, I’m giving whoever is first to sit at the front a nice big prize. 
    • The clause “he is first to sit” requires the subjective form.
  3. Listen, whoever finishes the 21k gets a finisher’s medal, so whatever you do, don’t stop! 
    • This is the subject of the sentence.
  4. Whoever wrote this book is an absolute genius!
    • This is the subject of the sentence.
  5. Show whoever is interested around the museum. 
    • The clause “he is interested” requires the subjective form.
  6. Whoever it was that made this video must have made a lot of money by now. 
    • This is the subject of the sentence.
  7. Give whoever is at the nursing home a glass of milk every morning, OK?
    • The clause “he is at the nursing home” requires the subjective form.
  8. The horse kicked and thrashed, hitting whoever had entered the barn. 
    • The clause “he had entered the barn” requires the subjective form.
  9. It’s our culture for a boy to give whomever he likes flowers and candy.  
    • The clause “he likes her” requires the objective form.
  10. Whoever owes money on his rent should be the first to initiate payment. 
    • This is the subject of the sentence.

How to Use Whomever

The word whomever is one of those words that many people overuse simply because they’re afraid whoever might be incorrect or informal.

However, there are very straightforward rules for when to use whoever or whomever. Take note of these simple rules, and again, when in doubt, don’t be afraid to rephrase your sentence. 

The important thing is not that you sound smart, but that you make yourself clearly understood.

Did you find this post helpful? Let us know in the comments below!

 

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