The typical usage guide statement about the choice between who
says that the choice must be determined by the grammar of the clause within which this pronoun occurs. Who
is the appropriate form for the subject of a sentence or clause: Who are you? The voters who elected him have not been disappointed. Whom
is the objective form: Whom did you ask? To whom are we obliged for this assistance?
This method of selecting the appropriate form is generally characteristic of formal writing and is usually followed in edited prose.
In most speech and writing, however, since who
often occurs at the beginning of the sentence or clause, there is a strong tendency to choose who
no matter what its function. Even in edited prose, who
occurs at least ten times as often as whom,
regardless of grammatical function. Only when it directly follows a preposition is whom
more likely to occur than who
: Mr. Erickson is the man to whom you should address your request.
In natural informal speech, whom
is quite rare. Who were you speaking to?
is far more likely to occur than the “correct” To whom were you speaking?
or Whom were you speaking to?
However, the notion that whom
is somehow more “correct” or elegant than who
leads some speakers to make an inappropriate hypercorrection: Whom are you? The person whom is in charge has left the office.
See also than