- Books, Literature, and Writing
Grammar Tool Kit: Who or Whom, Which or That, and Only
By Joan Whetzel
Most grammar choices are fairly easy to figure out as a rule. Some can be a bit tricky though. Take, for instance, the choices between who or whom, or the decision between which or that, or knowing where to use the word only in a sentence. But once you learn the rules of use for these words, they’ll become easy too.
Who or Whom?
The key to remembering which of these words to use – who or whom - is to look at the last letter of both words. Who ends in a vowel and whom ends in a consonant. The answer to these questions also end in a vowel and a consonant respectively. So if you ask a question with “who” the answer is he, she, or they. Asking the question “whom” will elicit the answers him, her, and them.
· Who wants to know? He does. She does. They do.
· For whom does the bell toll? It tolls for him. It tolls for her. It tolls for them.
Which or That?
Choosing between which and that is probably one of the more confusing grammar options. The selection depends on the clause to which the “that” or “which” is attached. The word that is usually combined with essential clauses – clauses adding information that is neccesary for the sentence to make sense. The word which is added to non-essential clauses. these clauses add information to a sentence, yet the sentence would still make sense of the clause were absent. A couple of words of note: First, non-essential clauses may, at times, begin with the word that, but essential clauses will never begin with the word which. Second, non-essential clauses should be seprated from the main part of the sentences by a comma or a set of parenthesis.
· Milk that is made from soy is far better for people who are allergic to dairy products.
· Eating tofu, which she likes better than cheese, has improved Maggie’s cholesterol level. Removing the non-essential clause – “which she likes better than cheese” – makes the sentence read: “Eating tofu has improved Maggie’s cholesterol level.” The sentence still makes sense without the which clause.
The Placement of "Only" in a Sentence
Knowing where to place the word only in a sentence may not seem important, but it can be a bit tricky. Placing it next to the wrong word changes the meaning of the sentence entirely. It’s one of those modifiers that is frequently misplaced, to the annoyance of many and English teacher. The only rule is as follows: place the word only immediately in front of the word or phrase it is meant to modify. In the following examples, the word only is placed in the same sentence in four different locations, giving the sentence four uniquely different meanings.
· Michael only turned in his term paper to two teachers. (He turned in his term paper to the teachers but failed to turn in any other required homework.)
· Micheal turned in only his term paper to two teachers. (He turned in his own term papers to the teachers but didn’t hand in anyone else’s term papers.)
· Micheal turned in his only term paper to the two teachers. (He wrote one term paper and he turned in two copies to his teachers.)
· Michael turned in his term paper to only two teachers. (He turned in his term paper to two teachers, not to any other teachers, nor to anyone else.)
Learning the rules for who and whom, which and that, and only isn’t really difficult. Remembering these simple tricks will help you get it right every time you sit down to write.