I would undoubtedly earn many a nefarious sneer from the high school juniors I know if they were to catch wind of this little-known fact: I think the questions on the SAT can be kind of fun.

I know. I know. Stop gagging. The truth is that I’ve been looking at these questions for so many years that I actually find them relaxing – a chance to reacquaint myself with some great words I may not have seen in a while, to test the longevity of Sr. Emery’s grammar lessons (third grade sentence diagramming is STILL with me), to read a passage and outsmart the test makers “trick questions.”

Of course, I have nothing at stake. On the rare occasion I may miss a question, the gravity of my error is wiped clean with a smug “Oh yeah” as I read the explanation. For my high school students, however, the gravitas of this obnoxiously-long test is indelible.

Their futures depend on their ability to know when it is appropriate to use the words “who” and “whom.” Never mind that the internet abounds with rumors that pretty soon it’s not going to matter a hill of beans because “whom” is slipping into the graveyard of obsolescence.  Oh no. If you want to go to Harvard, you’d better know the distinction between seemingly indistinct ideas.

Give the tickets to whomever.  VS  Give the tickets to whoever wants them.

What the heck’s the difference!?

In case you really do want to know, here’s the lowdown.

WHO is a subject pronoun. It goes where you would put “he” or “they.” WHOM is an object pronoun. It goes where you would put “him” or “them.”

To identify whether who/whom is used correctly in a sentence, follow these 3 steps:

1. Isolate the who/whom phrase or clause. Ex: Give these tickets to [whomever you like].

2. Reorder the clause so it’s in a natural order. Ex: you like whomever.

3. Substitute who/whom for he/him and choose which one sounds correct. Ex: “you like he” or  “you like him”

he = who / him = whom

“You like him” sounds much better, so “whomever” is the correct choice.

So… Give the tickets to whomever. = Give the tickets to HIM.

Give the tickets to whoever wants them. [whoever wants them] = HE wants them.

Make sense? If not… well then, just give the damn tickets to Bill and call it a day. And be sublimely grateful you aren’t taking the SAT in three weeks.