‘Who’ Grammar Rules

Written by Dan

Last updated

Are you trying to get your students up to speed on the proper way to use the word ‘Who’? If so, have no fear! In this blog post, we’ll cover everything from simple grammar rules for ‘who’ usage through more advanced concepts like verb agreement and syntax.

By the time you’re done reading, your students will have a thorough understanding of how to properly utilize the pronoun ‘who’. Here we go – let’s dive into mastering who grammar rules!

Related: For more, check out our article on How To Fix Your Grammar Mistakes  here.

top 10 grammar rules

Understanding the Basics of ‘Who’

This simple yet powerful word is a pronoun that we use to refer to a person or people that we’re talking about. It’s like a name tag for a person whose name we don’t know yet or don’t need to mention.

Whenever you’re trying to point someone out in a conversation or ask about someone, ‘who’ is your go-to friend.

Now, onto some examples of how we use ‘who’. Let’s say you’re at a party and you see someone you don’t recognize.

You might ask your friend, “Who is that?” Here, ‘who’ helps you inquire about the identity of the mysterious guest.

Or maybe you’re telling a story about your trip to the zoo, and you say, “I saw a kid who was feeding the monkeys.”

In this case, ‘who’ helps you describe the child involved in your tale. Remember, ‘who’ is all about people – whether it’s asking about them, describing them, or simply mentioning them in your chats.

‘Who’ as a Subject Pronoun

Explanation of a subject pronoun.

A subject pronoun is the star of the sentence, it’s the person or thing that’s doing the action.

When you’re talking about someone who’s doing something, but you don’t want to say their name (or maybe you don’t know it), ‘who’ is your go-to word.

It’s like a fill-in-the-blank for people in your sentences. Using ‘who’ as a subject pronoun helps us bring personality into our language, making our chats more engaging and personable.

Examples of ‘who’ used as a subject pronoun.

Now, let’s see ‘who’ in action! Imagine you’re watching a talent show and an amazing dancer takes the stage. You might turn to your friend and ask, “Who is dancing so gracefully?”

Here, ‘who’ is the subject of the sentence, performing the action (dancing). Or you’re telling a story about a mysterious good samaritan: “Who helped the old lady cross the road?”.

In this case, ‘who’ is again the subject pronoun, the one doing the action (helping).

These examples show how ‘who’ can make our conversations more dynamic and engaging. So next time you’re chatting, remember to invite ‘who’ to the party!

‘Who’ in Interrogative Sentences

Explanation and examples of ‘who’ in questions.

So what about ‘who’ in interrogative sentences, or in simpler terms, questions. ‘Who’ is a bit of a superstar when it comes to asking questions about people.

It’s like your own personal detective, helping you uncover the identities and actions of people in your stories, discussions, and inquiries.

For instance, you’re at a concert and spot someone jamming out on the guitar. You might lean over to your friend and ask, “Who is playing that awesome solo?”

Here, ‘who’ helps you inquire about the identity of the person doing the action, i.e., playing the guitar.

Or perhaps you’re reading a book and come across an intriguing character. You might wonder, “Who is this character’s mysterious ally?” Again, ‘who’ is your trusty tool for digging deeper into the people in your story.

Importance of question word order with ‘who’.

English is pretty strict about its sentence structures, and questions are no exception. Usually, ‘who’ kicks off the question, followed by the verb and then the object.

Think of it as the lead singer in a band; it steps up to the microphone first.

Take, for example, “Who ate the last piece of cake?” Here, ‘who’ starts the question, followed by the verb ‘ate’, and then the object ‘the last piece of cake’.

By keeping ‘who’ at the start, you’re making sure your question is clear, direct, and easy to understand. So remember, let ‘who’ take the lead, and you’ll be crafting perfect questions in no time!

‘Who’ in Relative Clauses

Explanation of relative clauses.

Picture this: you’re building a sentence and suddenly you realize you want to add a bit more information about someone or something in that sentence.

What do you do? You call in a relative clause! It’s like a little extra nugget of information that helps to clarify, specify, or add detail about a person or thing in your sentence. The best part? It’s all neatly tucked into the sentence so it flows smoothly in the conversation!

How to properly use ‘who’ in relative clauses.

Now, let’s talk about our friend ‘who’ in this context. ‘Who’ is a real champ when it comes to relative clauses about people. It’s the link that connects the main part of your sentence with the extra bit of information you want to add about a person.

For instance, imagine you’re talking about your friend who just achieved something amazing. You might say, “My friend, who just won the lottery, is incredibly lucky.”

Here, ‘who just won the lottery’ is the relative clause giving additional information about your friend, and ‘who’ is the star that connects it all together.

Or perhaps you’re telling a story about a stranger who did something kind: “The man who helped me carry my groceries was very kind.” Again, ‘who helped me carry my groceries’ is the relative clause adding detail about the man, and ‘who’ is the handy connector.

Advanced Grammar Concepts Related to ‘Who’

Verb agreement with ‘who’.

When using ‘who’ as a subject pronoun, it should always be paired with a verb that agrees with it. Now, ‘who’ is a bit of a chameleon because it can refer to one person or many people.

The trick is to look at the noun or pronoun that ‘who’ is referring to. If ‘who’ refers to a singular noun (like ‘the girl who reads’), use a singular verb.

If ‘who’ refers to a plural noun (like ‘the people who read’), use a plural verb. It’s like a little grammar dance that ‘who’ does with its verbs!

Syntax rules for ‘who’.

Let’s move on to syntax rules for ‘who’. Syntax is a fancy term for the way words are arranged in sentences. It’s like the blueprint for your sentence construction.

In English, ‘who’ usually comes before the verb in both questions and relative clauses. For example, in the question “Who ate the cookies?”, ‘who’ comes before the verb ‘ate’. Similarly, in the relative clause “The person who ate the cookies”, ‘who’ again precedes the verb ‘ate’.

But here’s where it gets interesting: sometimes ‘who’ can end a sentence, especially in casual conversation. For example, “You were talking to who?”

This structure is less formal and you might not want to use it in academic or formal writing. But in everyday chat, it’s a fun way to mix up your sentence structures.

So whether you’re dancing with verb agreement or playing around with syntax, remember that ‘who’ is a versatile and flexible friend in your grammar toolkit!

Common Mistakes and Misuses of ‘Who’

Highlighting common errors in ‘who’ usage.

Let’s face it, we all make mistakes, especially when it comes to using ‘who’. It’s like when you’re trying to juggle too many oranges – sometimes one slips out of your hand.

But don’t worry, we’re here to catch those grammar oranges before they hit the ground!

One common slip-up is confusing ‘who’ with ‘whom’. You see, ‘who’ is a subject pronoun, meaning it’s used for the person doing the action (like “Who ate the cookies?”).

On the other hand, ‘whom’ is an object pronoun, used for the person receiving the action (like “To whom were the cookies given?”). It’s like the difference between the pitcher and the catcher in a baseball game.

Another common mistake is using ‘who’ when referring to things or objects. Remember, ‘who’ is a people person! It likes to stick with humans or human-like entities (like characters in a story).

For objects or non-human entities, use ‘that’ or ‘which’ instead.

Tips on how to avoid these mistakes.

Now that we’ve identified these common mistakes, let’s look at some friendly tips to help you steer clear of them.

Firstly, remember the baseball game analogy: ‘who’ is the pitcher (the one doing the action) and ‘whom’ is the catcher (the one receiving the action).

So, when you’re constructing your sentence, think about who’s doing what. If the person you’re talking about is doing the action, use ‘who’. If they’re on the receiving end, use ‘whom’.

Secondly, keep ‘who’ in the people zone. If you’re talking about a person or character, ‘who’ is your go-to. But if you’re referring to objects or non-human entities, switch to ‘that’ or ‘which’.

Just like driving a car, it might take a bit of practice to get the hang of these rules. But once you do, you’ll be smoothly cruising down Grammar Highway with ‘who’ as your trusty co-pilot!


Remember, every ‘who’ you use correctly is a win, a little celebration of your growing grammar skills.

And with each ‘who’, you’re not just building sentences, you’re building connections, sharing information, and expressing yourself more clearly and confidently. So keep practicing, exploring, and most importantly, having fun with ‘who’!

About The Author

I'm Dan Higgins, one of the faces behind The Teaching Couple. With 15 years in the education sector and a decade as a teacher, I've witnessed the highs and lows of school life. Over the years, my passion for supporting fellow teachers and making school more bearable has grown. The Teaching Couple is my platform to share strategies, tips, and insights from my journey. Together, we can shape a better school experience for all.






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