Who

'Who' is commonly known as a question word used to acquire information about a person. In this lesson, we will learn everything about this word.

How to Use "Who" in the English Grammar

Who is one of the WH-words categories. Three functions of who are covered in this lesson:

1. 'Who' as an Interrogative Pronoun

Use

Who as an interrogative pronoun is used to ask about the subject, the subject complement, the object, or the object of a preposition. Remember that who is only used to refer to people. Take a look:

  • Who asks about the subject; like:

Who goes there?

Who is the fattest?

  • Who asks about the subject complement that is the adjective, noun, or pronoun that follows the linking verb; like:

A : I am Rita.

B : Who are you?

  • Who asks about the object and it is used with verbs or verb phrases with particles; like:

Who are you interested in?

Who do you work for?

  • Who can be the object of a preposition as well. Such as:

To who are you sending the letter?

'Who' is the object of 'to.'

Who vs. Whom

1. Who is used to refer to subjects or objects, but whom refers only to objects. For example:

Who did you invite to the party?

'Who' refers to the object.

Whom did you invite to the party?

2. In everyday English, it is more natural to use who instead of whom at the beginning of a question. The preposition, then, comes at the end of the sentence. Therefore, it is considered formal to use prepositions before whom. For example:

Who are you sending the letter to?

To whom it may concern.

It sounds formal.

Position in a Sentence

Who as an interrogative pronoun comes at the beginning of the sentence. An inversion is needed when 'who' asks about the subject complement, the object, or the object of a preposition.

  • If who is used to ask about the subject. There is no need for inversion; for example:

Sara goes there. → Who goes there?

Sara is the fastest. → Who is the fastest?

  • If who is used to ask about the subject complement, an inversion is required. For example:

I am Rita. → Who are you?

There are two steps to make an inversion:
1. The subject complement is omitted and who comes at the beginning of the interrogative sentence.
2. The to-be verb and the subject are inverted.

Tip

1. The subjects 'I' and 'we' are replaced with 'you' in interrogative sentences.
2. If there is a main verb in a sentence, a semi-auxiliary or an auxiliary verb is needed to make an interrogation.

  • If who is used to ask about the object, an inversion is required. For example:

Who are you interested in?

Who do you work for?

To who are you sending this letter?

Tip

Who can be used alone to show surprise or other emotions, like:

A : Drake is on tour.

B : Who?

2. 'Who' as a Relative Pronoun

Use

Who as a relative pronoun connects the relative clause to the independent clause. The relative clause introduced by 'who' is adjectival because it describes the preceding noun. For example:

I don't know the man who is over there.

'Who is over there' is an adjective clause, acting as an adjective for 'the man.'

Position in a Sentence

Who as a relative pronoun always heads an adjective clause. Look at this example:

I don’t know the man who is over there.

'Who' always heads the adjective clause.

Who vs. That

That as a relative pronoun can replace who but a comma is never used before 'that.' Who can take a comma if the adjective clause it introduces, is non-essential. Like:

I saw the man, who can sing songs.

'Who can sing songs' is a non-essential adjective clause.

This is the man who sing songs.

'Who sings songs' is an essential adjective clause.

3. 'Who' as a Nominal Relative Pronoun

Use

Who as a nominal relative pronoun is used to introduce a relative clause. The relative clause is nominal because it acts as subjects or objects for the independent clause. Look at these examples:

I don't know who is over there.

'Who is over there' is the object of 'know.'

Who to call, doesn't matter.

'Who to call' is the subject.

Position in a Sentence

Who as a nominal relative pronoun always heads a nominal relative clause. For example:

I don't know who is over there.

Who called, doesn't matter.

'Who called' is a nominal relative clause.

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