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Who vs. Whom and Other Writing Bugaboos

Definition of usage

Every writer has them: little points of grammar they can never remember. Is it who or whom? When is effect the right word? Is it i.e. or e.g., and what do they stand for anyway? Herewith, a few points to help you produce cleaner copy.

  • Who vs. whom. Who is used in place of a subject noun, whereas whom is used in place of an object noun. Try switching out who/whom for they/them. If you’d use they, you want who; if you’d use them, whom is your answer:Who was late for dinner? They were late for dinner.
    I sent an e-mail to whom? I sent an e-mail to them.
  •  I.e. and e.g. I.e. stands for id est in Latin, which translates to that is in English. E.g. stands for exempli gratia in Latin, which is for example in English. If you can remember that i.e. is that is, you’ll be able to make the right choice. (Anyone have a mnemomic device for remembering which is which?)
  • Affect and effect. Affect is generally used as a verb, and effect is generally used as a noun. Here’s a mnemonic device, courtesy of Copyediting: “To Affect is to Act on, but the Effect is the rEsult.”
  •  Farther vs. further. Farther is used for distances, while further is used for time or degree:I walked farther today than I did yesterday.
    John wants to discuss the topic further at the meeting.

What bugaboos haunt your writing? Let me know in the comments below and I’ll cover them in a future post.

2 thoughts on “Who vs. Whom and Other Writing Bugaboos

  1. Hi Erin,
    The best mnemonic for i.e. and e.g. is don’t use them. The Second Vatican Council was in 1962. Since then, the teaching of Latin has declined precipitously, so that few people teaching K-12 English have ever been exposed to it. As a consequence, we’ve had a couple of generations of students who haven’t a clue what id est or exempli gratia might mean. I’ve edited books by people with PhDs in the humanities who couldn’t keep them straight. Pity the poor reader. We’ve killed off ibid. and op. cit. Kill i.e. and e.g., too. If the purpose of writing is clear communication, don’t hobble yourself with confusing Latin abbreviations.


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