From Middle English who, hwo, huo, wha, hwoa, hwa, from Old English hwā (dative hwām, genitive hwæs), from Proto-West Germanic *hwaʀ, from Proto-Germanic *hwaz, from Proto-Indo-European *kʷos, *kʷis.
The sound change /hw/ > /h/ (without a corresponding change in spelling) due to wh-cluster reduction after an irregular change of /aː/ to /oː/ in Middle English (instead of the expected /ɔː/) and further to /uː/ regularly in Early Modern English. Compare how, which underwent wh-reduction earlier (in Old English), and thus is spelt with h.
Compare Scots wha, West Frisian wa, Dutch wie, Low German we, German wer, Danish hvem, Norwegian Bokmål hvem, Norwegian Nynorsk kven, Icelandic hver.
who (singular or plural, nominative case, objective whom, who, possessive whose)
- (interrogative) What person or people; which person or people; asks for the identity of someone; used in a direct or indirect question.
- Who is that? (direct question)
- I don't know who it is. (indirect question)
- c. 1603–1604 (date written), William Shakespeare, The Tragœdy of Othello, the Moore of Venice. […] (First Quarto), London: […] N[icholas] O[kes] for Thomas Walkley, […], published 1622, OCLC 724111485, [Act I, scene ii], page 8:
- Ia[go]. Hee’s married. Caſ[ſio]. To who? […] Ia[go]. Marry to. ---- Come Captaine, will you goe? Oth[ello]. Ha, with who?
- (relative) Introduces a relative clause having a human antecedent.
- With antecedent as subject.
- That's the man who works at the newsagent. (defining)
- My sister, who works in the accounts department, just got promoted to manager. (non-defining)
- 2008, BioWare, Mass Effect (Science Fiction), Redwood City: Electronic Arts, →ISBN, OCLC 246633669, PC, scene: Citadel:
- Chorban: I don't really think my scanning disturbs them, but the authorities might disagree.
Chorban: I'd like to do it more openly, but it's not really worth getting arrested over.
Shepard: I could help you out. I'm not worried about the authorities.
Chorban: I don't even know who you are.
- 2014 March 3, Zoe Alderton, “‘Snapewives’ and ‘Snapeism’: A Fiction-Based Religion within the Harry Potter Fandom”, in Religions, volume 5, number 1, MDPI, DOI:10.3390/rel5010219, pages 219-257:
- Despite personal schisms and differences in spiritual experience, there is a very coherent theology of Snape shared between the wives. To examine this manifestation of religious fandom, I will first discuss the canon scepticism and anti-Rowling sentiment that helps to contextualise the wider belief in Snape as a character who extends beyond book and film.
- (non-formal) With antecedent as object: whom.
- That's the man who I saw earlier.(defining)
- My brother, who you met the other day, is coming to stay for the weekend.(non-defining)
- With antecedent as subject.
- (fused relative, archaic or marginal) Whoever, he who, they who.
- Who insults my mother insults me.
- Give it to who deserves it.(marginal usage)
- c. 1603–1604 (date written), William Shakespeare, “The Tragedie of Othello, the Moore of Venice”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies […] (First Folio), London: […] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, OCLC 606515358, [Act III, scene iii]:
- Who steals my purse steals trash.
- Who is a subject pronoun. Whom is an object pronoun. To determine whether a particular sentence uses a subject or an object pronoun, rephrase it to use he/she/they or him/her/them instead of who, whom; if you use he, she or they, then you use the subject pronoun who; if you use him, her or them, then you use the object pronoun. The same rule applies to whoever/whosoever/whoso and whomever/whomsoever/whomso.
- Who can also be used as an object pronoun, especially in informal writing and speech (hence one hears not only whom are you waiting for? but also who are you waiting for?), and whom may be seen as (overly) formal; in some dialects and contexts, it is hardly used, even in the most formal settings. As an exception to this, fronted prepositional phrases almost always use whom, e.g. one usually says with whom did you go?, not *with who did you go?. However, dialects in which whom is rarely used usually avoid fronting prepositional phrases in the first place (for example, using who did you go with?).
- The use of who as an object pronoun is proscribed by many authorities, but is frequent nonetheless. It is usually felt to be much more acceptable than the converse hypercorrection in which whom is misused in place of who, as in *the savage whom spoke to me.
- For more information, see "who" and "whom" on Wikipedia.
- When “who” (or the other relative pronouns “that” and “which”) is used as the subject of a relative clause, the verb typically agrees with the antecedent of the pronoun. Thus “I who am...”, “He who is...”, “You who are...”, etc.
- Formerly sometimes with partitive of, where which is ordinarily used
who (plural whos)
- A person under discussion; a question of which person.
- 2008 March 21, The New York Times, “Movie Guide and Film Series”, in New York Times:
- A wham-bam caper flick, efficiently directed by Roger Donaldson, that fancifully revisits the mysterious whos and speculative hows of a 1971 London bank heist.
- (interrogative, dialect, African-American Vernacular) whose
- Who phone just rang?
From Old English hwā, from Proto-West Germanic *hwaʀ, from Proto-Germanic *hwaz, from Proto-Indo-European *kʷos, *kʷis.
who (singular or plural, nominative case, accusative/dative whom, genitive whos, inanimate what)
- (interrogative) who (nominative)
- c. 1395, John Wycliffe, John Purvey [et al.], transl., Bible (Wycliffite Bible (later version), MS Lich 10.), published c. 1410, Dedis of Apoſtlis 26:15, page 107v, column 1; republished as Wycliffe's translation of the New Testament, Lichfield: Bill Endres, 2010:
- ⁊ I seide .· who art þou, loꝛd? / ⁊ þe loꝛd ſeide / I am iheſus whom þou purſueſt.
- And I asked, "Who are you, Lord?". The Lord replied, "I am Jesus, who you are persecuting".
- (relative) who (nominative)
- (relative) whoever, anyone who (usually nominative)
- (indefinite) anyone, someone (nominative)
- The non-relative indefinite sense is rare outside of the expression as who (“as one”).
- In Middle English, use of who as an accusative is rare and restricted to the sense of "whoever".
- “whō, pron.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.