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In his play “The Life and Death of King John”, William Shakespeare famously wrote, You are the hare of whom the proverb goes, Whose valor plucks dead lions by the beard.

In “King Henry VI”, he wrote: To whom God will, there be the victory.

The good news is, you don’t have to interpret Shakespeare on the GMAT. However, you may have noticed that in both sentences, Shakespeare used the word whom. The question is, did he use that pronoun correctly?

I’ll spare you the suspense — Yes, he did. He’s Shakespeare after all! But the more important question is, would you have used the word whom correctly? Or, more relevant to sentence correction question on the GMAT verbal section, would you have been able to identify correct or incorrect usage of who vs. whom?

This is actually a fairly straightforward issue on the GMAT, and learning a couple of rules will ensure that you’ll be able to identify the differences in usage and get right answers on test day.

The main question you’ll want to ask yourself when you see the pronouns who and whom on a sentence correction question is:

If a question were asked about the relevant part of the sentence, would the answer be “he/she/they,” or “him/her/them”?

Depending on the answer, you’ll either use who or whom. Let me explain. Here’s a very simple rule for remembering which to use, and when:

He = Who
Him = Whom

(An easy way to remember the difference is that the two words that end in -m go together).

Consider this sentence: “Who/whom is responsible for ordering the decorations for the party?”

Remember our rule above. The answer to the question would be “He is,” right? (the answer could of course also be “She is” or “They are,” but you get the point). Therefore, we’d need to use the pronoun who. Good job if you got that.

Conversely, what about this sentence: “Who/whom do you like?”

The answer to the question would be “I like him.” Therefore, according to the rule above, you’d need to use the pronoun whom for the original sentence to be correct. Pretty easy, right?

Let’s kick things up a notch. Sometimes you’ll also have to choose between whoever/whomever in a GMAT sentence correction question. Good news — the same logic applies here. In this case, just remember this simple memory trick:

Him + He = Whoever
Him + Him = Whomever

(Just like above, the two words ending in -m correspond with whomever)

Here’s what I mean. When determining which of these object pronouns to use, we can ask ourselves the same question as above. Consider the following two examples, give them a try, and see how you do in choosing between whoever/whomever:

1) “We will hire whoever/whomever you recommend.”

2) “We will hire whoever/whomever is most qualified.”

What did you get? Let’s think through them together.

For Sentence 1, we’d ask ourselves the following questions: Who will we hire? (Answer: Him); Who do you recommend? (Answer: Him). Therefore, Him + Him = Whomever. Good job if you got that.

For Sentence 2, we’d ask ourselves the following questions: Who will we hire? (Answer: Him); Who is most qualified? Answer: (He is). Therefore, Him + He = Whoever. Great job if you got that.

Hopefully this is starting to make sense. It’s not rocket science, but it can definitely be a bit tricky if you don’t know the rules we just discussed. Now you do. Let’s apply those rules to one final example that more closely resembles a real former GMAT sentence correction question:

Q: “In response to John’s inquiry, the curator told him that in the museum, there is a list of available works of lesser-known artists of whom paintings survive who plied their trade during the Renaissance.”

We have two who/whom choices to make in this sentence, and both can be answered using the rules above. For the first instance, “…artists of whom paintings survive…” we ask, “Which artists are the paintings of?” The answer is, “The paintings are of them [the lesser-known artists].” Therefore, the rules above tell us to use the pronoun whom. So far, so good!

Next, we look at the verb plied. The subject pronoun that would accompany that past-tense verb would be they (as in, “They plied their trade…”), right? This would make the correct pronoun who, because He/She/They = Who as explained above.

In this sentence, then, both of those pronouns are used correctly! The correct answer would therefore be A.

You may not be able to write like Shakespeare after this lesson, but hopefully now you’ll at least be able to correctly differentiate between who/whom and whoever/whomever on the GMAT — and that’s what matters most for your score, after all.