_ What single word perplexes native English speakers more than that of whom, an utterance that has all but disappeared in regular speech, one that sounds ridiculously posh, especially when preempted by those hoity-toity prepositions: with whom, to whom, for whom. At some point, whom must have held a high court of fandom, something so powerfully sustaining and academically certain that these days, days of the universal—English—language, the lingering prowess of whom has remained, indeed, can’t seem to be erased.
In the intermediate stages of learning English, when speakers have moved beyond those standard question-answer formulas (What’s your name? How are you? Where are you from?), every book seems to devote some manner of time, be it a page or a chapter, to the use of whom. The ironic asterisk, informing learners of the archaic nature of whom, that you might as well use who all of the time, like every native speaker outside of Cambridge and the Ivy Leagues, doesn’t seem enough to deter publishers from including the moot grammar point.
For those of you not daily engorged in the minutia of English grammar, the use of whom may still seem shrouded in mystery, a proclamation of pun, a pretentious point with which pompous pedantics project themselves as intellectual superiors, quickly interjecting to correct your offensive word choice. Worry not, dear friends, today I will distill these ancient quandaries, release the trade secrets of whom (in a single and simple paragraph no less), while continuing to berate its supporters.
Simply, who is for subjects, and whom is for objects. Who does the action of sentences: Who wrote this sentence? I wrote this sentence. Whom receives: For whom did I write these sentences? I wrote these sentences for you. Who cares? No one cares. To whom does this matter? This matters to very few. The reason for those equally troublesome tagalongs, those tos and fors, is that the same grammatical buttheads that celebrate the use of whom also forbid us from ending sentences with prepositions. So, “Who are you talking to?” becomes “Whom are you talking to?” becomes “To whom are you talking?”
That pretty much sums it up, so why does it continue to confuse lifelong speakers of English, the people who (not whom) should understand this stuff intrinsically? The irony of knowing a language fluently, “naturally” so to speak, is that native speakers learn sentence structures mostly via experience rather than books. Thus, when language evolves, becoming more efficient and less elitist, little used grammar constructions like whom disappear. Unless you learn it for an exam, you’ll never need it. After all, “who may it concern” is no less clear than “whom may it concern”.
However, now, having drudged through this grammar lesson, you may be enthused to use this new knowledge, perhaps drop a whom here or there in your next conversation. Equally, you may still be concerned about coming off like an ass. So, I suppose our final question is this: With whom do we use this decaying grammar? My British wife and fellow grammarian, Emma, suggests its use if and when you meet the queen, and I, your lowly guide to the underworld of EFL, would suggest you use it when speaking to foreigners because they are amongst the only people who'll know you’ve used it correctly.