In this post, we’re going to talk about not one but two things many people are not very fond of: commas and the word “whom”!
Comma usage can be confusing and seem inconsistent, so people often find comma rules frustrating. However, there really is a method to the madness of those rules!
As for “whom,” it is a word people often do not use it all, incorrectly replacing it with “who” instead, mostly because they are not sure how to use it correctly.
With whom can you speak to about such things? Luckily for you, the Linguaholics blog is here to help.
Do you need a comma before “whom”?
You do not need a comma before “whom” if it is the first word of a restrictive clause. You do need a comma before “whom” if it is the first word of a nonrestrictive clause. When paired with a preposition, it is never preceded by a comma.
Comma usage with “Whom” as part of a restrictive clause
There are a few different ways to describe a restrictive clause, which is also called an essential clause.
A clause is restrictive or essential if removing it from the sentence would change the meaning of the sentence.
Another way to identify a restrictive clause is that it limits the noun it is modifying. In contrast, a nonrestrictive clause just provides additional information about the noun.
We can take a look at some example sentences to see how “whom” works as part of a restrictive clause:
In this sentence, the clause beginning with “whom” lets you know which girl the writer is talking about. In other words, it limits the noun “girl” to just one girl, the one the writer spoke to yesterday.
Because it identifies the girl and this lets you know that it is not one of the other girls, it is a restrictive clause and should not have a comma.
Here’s another sentence that uses “whom” as part of a restrictive clause:
“Whom I recommended for the job” tells you what woman the speaker or writer means. Without this information, you would not know which woman is being referred to.
Here’s one more example of “whom” coming at the beginning of a restrictive clause:
Comma usage with “whom” as part of a nonrestrictive phrase
When “whom” is part of a nonrestrictive or nonessential phrase, it must always be preceded by a comma because you need to set it apart from the rest of the sentence.
A nonrestrictive clause can be removed from a sentence without significantly changing the meaning. It gives you information about the noun, but it is not essential information.
It is easier to see the difference in a restrictive or nonrestrictive clauses when you compare two identical sentences where the comma is the only difference, so let’s take a look at the same example sentences from above.
The girl, whom I spoke to yesterday, is a student at my daughter’s school.
In the example without the commas, you didn’t know which girl the speaker or writer meant, so the phrase “whom I spoke to yesterday” was essential to indicate which girl.
In the example above, you know which girl the speaker or writer is talking about. “Whom I spoke to yesterday” is not necessary information.
Let’s look at the next sentence:
In the above sentence with the commas, you know which woman the writer means.
The fact that the woman was also recommended for a job is nonessential information, so “whom” has to be preceded with a comma.
Here’s one more example using a sentence you haven’t seen yet.
In the above sentence, the main idea is about Clarice’s sister wanting to join the FBI.
The fact that the writer has known her for several years is not essential information, so a comma comes before “whom.”
Comma usage with “whom” when paired with a preposition
“Whom” sometimes appears paired with a preposition. “For,” “to” and “with” are all prepositions that you commonly see it with.
There is never a comma before “whom” when it is paired with a preposition in this way.
Below are a few examples of sentences using prepositions and “whom”:
This is the case even if “whom” is part of a nonrestrictive clause since it is not the first word of the clause:
The formality of “whom”
Discussing when you would use “whom” instead of “who” is beyond the scope of this blog post, but it is worth noting that you may often see sentences that are structured like the ones above that use “who” instead of “whom.”
The reason for this is that most people do not use “whom” and misuse “who” in its place.
In fact, in informal speech and writing, “whom” can sometimes sound a little stiff and formal.
You should make an effort to speak and write correctly, but when you see “who” used interchangeably with “whom” the same way “whom” appears in the sentences above, understand that this is the reason why.
Also, the comma rule remains the same in either case!
Hey fellow Linguaholics! It’s me, Marcel. I am the proud owner of linguaholic.com. Languages have always been my passion and I have studied Linguistics, Computational Linguistics and Sinology at the University of Zurich. It is my utmost pleasure to share with all of you guys what I know about languages and linguistics in general.