01 August 2013

Who, Whom, and the ACT

The ACT does often test a version of the “who vs. whom” rule, but only at a relatively superficial level. There are only two things you need to know about.

1) Whom should not come before a verb

2) Whom should come after a preposition

 

For example:

 

Many people are familiar with the story of how the Pilgrim settlers met a Pawtuxet

tribe member named Squanto whom befriended them, taught them how to survive in

their new wilderness home, showed them how to plant crops, and acted as an interpreter 

with the Wampanoag tribe and its chief, Massasoit.


A.
NO CHANGE
B. which befriended
C. who befriended
D. and befriending

 

Yes, “who vs. whom” is clearly being tested here, but there’s a decent good chance that you can hear that whom befriended sounds extremely awkward, and that who befriended sounds a lot better.

In grammatical terms, the simplest version of the rule here is that whom should never be used right before a verb. (Befriend is a verb because you can say to befriend). That’s it. In order to apply the rule, you do need to be able to accurately recognize verbs, but if you can do that, you’re pretty much set.

 

Now, here’s part two of what you’re likely to see.

 

Many people are familiar with the story of how the Pilgrim settlers met Squanto, a

Pawtuxet tribe member from whom they learned about planting crops and surviving

in the New World.


A.
NO CHANGE
B. from who
C. by which
D. from which

 

There are two straightforward rules being tested here:

1)  Who and whom = people; which = thing

2) Whom, not who, must follow a preposition

Therefore:

C and D can be easily eliminated because which should only refer to things.

B is incorrect because from is a preposition, and prepositions should be followed by whom, not who.

That leaves A, which correctly uses whom

 

Generally speaking, the ACT is a lot more interested in testing whether people know the basics of correct English and are able to recognize flagrant mistakes than with how well they know complex grammar rules.

 

That means you’re exceedingly unlikely to see a question that looks like this:

 

Many people are familiar with the story of how the Pilgrim settlers met Squanto, a

Pawtuxet tribe member who they encountered shortly after arriving in the New World.


A.
NO CHANGE
B. whom they encountered
C. which they encountered
D. they encountered him

 

To answer this question, you need to be able to recognize that the correct answer is the direct object of the verb encounter – that is, you would say encounter him (object pronoun), not encounter he (subject pronoun).

Whom is correct because it is an object pronoun, whereas who is a subject pronoun. Only an object pronoun can replace an object pronoun (him —-> whom).

But again, the chance of your encountering a question that tests the rule at this level of subtlety is so small that it’s not even really worth worrying about.

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