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Category : Mechanics

“Who” versus “Whom”

Another word pair that often creates confusion for writers is “who” and “whom.” To properly learn which one to use, we first must clearly understand the difference between the subject and the object of a sentence. Basically, the subject is the one taking the action, and the object is the one that is the recipient of that action. For example, if Johnny hits Billy, Johnny is doing the hitting and is thus the subject, whereas Billy is being hit and is thus the object.

Now, let’s move on to “who” and “whom.” Both of these words are interrogative pronouns, i.e., pronouns used to ask questions. “Who” is a subjective interrogative pronoun. In other words, “who” is used as the subject of a sentence when asking a question. For example, “Who won the race?” “Whom” is an objective interrogative pronoun. In other words, “whom” is used as the object of a sentence or a preposition when asking a question. For example, “Whom did you beat in your race?” In this instance, you see that we are asking about the object of the sentence, i.e., the person who was beat.

To simplify things a bit, think of our first example. Who hit whom? Johnny hit Billy. Hopefully, you will now be able to confidently use “who” and “whom” in your writing.

Each, Every, Either, Neither

Distributive adjectives are normally used with singular nouns. They include “each”, “every”, “either”, and “neither” and are used to refer to members of a group as individuals.

For example, the sentence, “The group received informational brochures before beginning its tour” does not specify whether all the group’s members received brochures. Rather, this is conveyed by the sentence, “Each member of the group received an informational brochure before the tour began.” (Note that the use of “its” no longer makes sense, as “its” refers to “group” in the first sentence – since the subject of the second sentence is “each member of the group”, a more personal pronoun, such as “her” or “his”, or a construction that uses no pronoun at all, such as “before the tour began”, is correct.)

As the foregoing example illustrates, “each” is used to specify that a condition applies to all of the individual members of a group:

  • Each book in the series had a foreword by a noted scholar.
  • Each participant was asked to complete a survey.
  • Each of the participants received compensation.

Note that when the noun to which “each” refers is plural, the construction “each of the” is used.

In most cases, “every” and “each” are interchangeable, as far as meaning goes, though they require slightly different constructions:

  • Every book in the series had a foreword by a noted scholar.
  • Every participant was asked to complete a survey.

Note that it would never be appropriate to use “every of the” – as in, “every of the participants”, which is wrong. “Every” is only used with singular nouns.

The primary difference between “every” and “each” is the degree to which they emphasize the individual, versus the group. While “every” suggests “all” (think “everyone”), “each” suggests “every one”. The difference is subtle and intuitive.

“Either” implies one or the other of two options, as in:

  • Either of these movies would be interesting to me.
  • Either title is age-appropriate, but I suggest the former.

The options need not necessarily be mutually exclusive, but it is presumed, when “either” is used, that only one option will be selected. However, you might find while in a restaurant, for instance, that you can’t decide what to order because either of two options on a menu look good – and so you order both.

“Neither” implies not one or the other of two options, as in:

  • Neither pen will do, as I need to sign in pencil.
  • Neither person in the relationship seems to understand the dilemma.

Whilst suggesting the separate identities of two things (the pens, the people), “neither” negates the viability of both.

Gerunds

Gerunds are nominal forms of verbs (i.e. forms of verbs that act as nouns) that end in “ing”. They are used to indicate action or state of being.

Gerunds often appear as subjects:

  • Flying is frightening.
  • Walking quickly to the store was out of the question, so we drove.
  • Spending time with friends is as important as studying.

Note, in the first example, that “flying” is a gerund, while “frightening” is an adjective. In the second example, note that gerunds may be modified by adverbs.

Gerunds may also appear as direct objects:

  • Gerald likes driving.
  • Susan faked sleeping when her mother entered the room.
  • John enjoys running marathons.

In each of these cases, the gerund is the direct object of the verb that precedes it.

Gerunds may be the objects of prepositions:

  • From sailing, to waterskiing, to wakeboarding, to tubing, John tried and loved all water sports.
  • Carol thanked Stan for stepping in when she couldn’t make it to the meeting.
  • After months of negotiating, the parties reached an agreement.

They may be subject complements, too:

  • The fire is burning brightly.
  • The clock is running slow.

Note that in each case, “ing” implies the continuity or progression of action (“running”, “burning”).