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Do You Use 'Who' and 'Whom' "Correctly"?

Ross at Play

I just drafted a sentence including 'who' and decided I should check whether 'whom' was correct. It was.
This seems almost identical to when 'I' or 'me' should be used, except that even the diehards have given up defending the rightful place of 'whom' in the language.
For example, even Madame Strunk's House of Pain suggests:

Writers and editors of formal prose often resist (this)

When that lot declare the battle has been lost - even for formal writing - it has certainly been well and truly lost!
So should we, as writers of informal prose, simply ignore the traditional subjective versus objective distinction - and use the language that most people use nowadays?
Should we reserve the correct use of 'whom' in dialogue for characters we want to show have a 'stick up their bum'?

Geek of Ages

@Ross at Play

I use "who" and "whom" (and their trickier cousins "whoever" and "whomever") as correctly as I can in my own speech, but I'm also a stick in the mud on that count.

In stories, I think narrators and characters should speak appropriately for their voice/characterization. Which probably means either no use or gross misuse of "whom".

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ernest Bywater
Updated:

I'm constantly advised to use the word 'who' by a friend, but what would he know, he's just another night owl.

edit to add - it's 3:35 a.m. here on Friday morn.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Geek of Ages

Which probably means either no use or gross misuse of "whom".

That's the kind of conclusion I reached.
What struck me is I don't ever recall asking myself whether I should use 'whom'. Sometimes that sounds natural to me, but very rarely.
Yet, "I vs me" requires exactly the same decision, and I did ask myself whether to use 'I' or 'me' quite often, even before I started writing.

Ross at Play

@Ernest Bywater

I'm constantly advised to use the word 'who' by a friend

Who/whom is correct?
Note the wrong cases of the different cases are different.
For "I vs me", the common mistake is the objective case, 'me', is often used when 'I' should be used later in a sentence than usual.
For "who vs whom", the common mistake is the subjective case, 'who', is often used when 'whom' should be used earlier in a sentence than usual.
But these pronouns are very frequently used much earlier in sentences than the standard subject-verb-object order.
My guess is those who suggest others should be using 'whom' are getting it wrong almost all the time.

Joe Long

I don't use 'whom' often but I've always understood it to be the object.

A word which I instinctively avoid using is 'myself' as others appear to me to be constantly overusing it to the point where no one knows the correct usage anymore.

*I also didn't know what to call my mother-in-law. Certainly not by her first name, while Mrs. seemed to formal, and I couldn't bring myself to call her Mom. So for 35 years I didn't call her anything. I simply starting talking while never using a name or pronoun to address her.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Geek of Ages

I simply asked my mother-in-law what she would prefer I call her, and she indicated by her first name.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
Ross at Play
Updated:

@Joe Long

I don't use 'whom' often but I've always understood it to be the object.

Yes, but figuring out if it is an object can be very tricky.

In most cases, 'I' or 'me' is the subject or object of the main verb of a sentence, or is being equated to something else which is the subject or object of the main verb.

OTOH, 'who' and 'whom' are relative pronouns. They usually introduce a dependent clause, and you need to figure out what that clause is and then figure out if they are the subject or object of the verb within that clause.

I think I'm going to pay more attention to this in the future, but I think my response whenever I find something that should technically be 'whom' will be to suggest the sentence be rewritten without using either - to avoid sounding stuffy by doing what is correct.
There is more than one way to skin the cat for whom this bell tolls!

Replies:   Joe Long
Joe Long

@Ross at Play

OTOH, 'who' and 'whom' are relative pronouns. They usually introduce a dependent clause,


From memory, I'm thinking after a preposition, such as 'for whom' or 'to whom'

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Joe Long

From memory, I'm thinking after a preposition, such as 'for whom' or 'to whom'

What about this sentence?

I want to give this to whoever/whomever owns it.

I think now, three hours ago I had no idea, that:
- 'whoever/whomever owns it' is the indirect object of the main verb in the sentence, 'want to give',
but
- 'whoever/whomever' is the subject of the verb 'owns' within the clause 'whoever/whomever owns it'.
So, I think the correct sentence is:

I want to give this to whoever owns it.

I'm happy to be shown otherwise if anyone has a suitable reference they can quote.

Also, 'who' and 'whom' are often used in questions and are placed a long way ahead of their preposition. The only way to figure those out is by rearranging it into the order of the equivalent declarative statement.

Ross at Play

Grammar Girl suggests replace 'who' with 'he' and see if that sounds right. If 'him' sounds better, then use 'whom'.
I suppose this sounds bad:

I want to give this to he owns it.

But this sounds worse:

I want to give this to him owns it.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

Grammar Girl suggests replace 'who' with 'he' and see if that sounds right. If 'him' sounds better, then use 'whom'.
I suppose this sounds bad:

I want to give this to he owns it.
But this sounds worse:

I want to give this to him owns it.

That's because the test should be "he who owns it", making it a compound problem (i.e. does the test them become "he whom owns it?").

Even though I write mostly dialogue or use a 'fireside storyteller narrator' in 3rd person Omni, I still persist in separating who and whom.

Ross at Play

I want to end up using something that sounds natural, but as part of that process I want to know what is considered grammatically correct.
I think Grammar Girl's tip is useless. It'll only tell me the answer for sentences when I already know what is right.
In my example, do I choose 'whom' because it's the object of 'want to give', or 'who' because it's the subject of 'owns'?
I have something I could quote, and I can tell you it's not pretty, but I get too many brickbats thrown at me when I do that.

BTW, brickbats is a word with an interesting origin. It now means insults thrown publicly. It originally meant, in the days when roads were often made of brick, pieces of broken brick thrown at public speakers. :(

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
awnlee jawking

@Geek of Ages

I simply asked my mother-in-law what she would prefer I call her, and she indicated by her first name.


Nah, I think she was having you on and Daughterofsatan was actually her middle name ;)

AJ

Crumbly Writer
Updated:

@Ross at Play

BTW, brickbats is a word with an interesting origin. It now means insults thrown publicly. It originally meant, in the days when roads were often made of brick, pieces of broken brick thrown at public speakers. :

It changed meaning, largely because of a single cartoon, Crazy Cat, where the cat often threw bricks at people whenever they said something he disapproved of, cementing the term to mean "publicly criticize", rather than "the hurling of bricks". Which is good, since few cats have pockets large enough for bricks, or appreciate throwing them up!

BlacKnight

Whether I use "whom" in dialogue depends entirely on the character for whom I'm writing dialogue.

In narration, it depends on the narrative voice. I write first person a lot, so it often comes down to whether my PoV character would use "whom" in dialogue.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@BlacKnight

Whether I use "whom" in dialogue depends entirely on the character for whom I'm writing dialogue.
In narration, it depends on the narrative voice. I write first person a lot, so it often comes down to whether my PoV character would use "whom" in dialogue.

I totally agree. That is the exact criterion I use for my second and final decision when choosing between 'I' or 'me", etc.
My first step, however, is working out what would be grammatically correct.
I want to start using a similar process for 'who' or 'whom'.

This is another one of those situations where my ear gets it right almost all the time - I'm better off not thinking - but I'd still like to know how to think my way through such things, and for this type of situation I remain somewhat puzzled.

BlacKnight

"Who" is the nominative case; "whom" is the objective case. You use "who" for subjects and "whom" for objects - direct, indirect, or objects of preposition.

This is exactly the same as choosing between the nominative and objective forms of the personal pronouns (I/me, we/us, he/him, she/her, they/them, thou/thee... "you" and "it" are the same in both cases, though "you" was once upon a time "ye" in the nominative).

This is confusing because Modern English only distinguishes between the nominative and objective cases for pronouns, and not even all of those, so English-speakers aren't used to having to keep track of the role a word takes in a sentence to determine which case it should be in.

You ever studied Latin? Every noun and pronoun is inflected like that in Latin. A girl is puella when she's the subject, puellam when she's the object. (I know, they say not to objectify women.)

Old English did the same, though with a slightly different set of cases and case usage than Latin, and the cases we still use - nominative; a genitive that's been reduced to little more than possessives; and, for a few pronouns only, an objective case that's assimilated all the roles of the former accusative, dative, and instrumental cases - are only the vestigial remnants of Old English's declensions.

Ross at Play
Updated:

@BlacKnight

Thank you for that.
Yes, I did two years of Latin. I remember as far as: amo, amis, amit, am...?

I was aware the general principle for "who v whom" was the same as "I v me".
I read something in CMOS which suggested applying that principle to "who v whom" can be much more tricky because the relative pronouns can be used in some unusual constructions.
I tried looking up some other references but could only find explanations I consider over-simplified and useless.

I would like to try a little test? Does anyone care to offer their opinion on which, if any, of these three sentences are correct?
(a) Whom should I say is calling?
(b) I'll talk to whomever will listen.
(c) Whomever you choose will suit me.

Replies:   JohnBobMead  robberhands
StarFleetCarl

@Ross at Play

Do You Use 'Who' and 'Whom' "Correctly"?


No.

JohnBobMead

@Ross at Play

I'll bite. I think (a) is correct, and (b) and (c) incorrect. Couldn't tell you why, that's just my gut feeling.

Replies:   robberhands
richardshagrin

@BlacKnight

vestigial remnants

One of the possibilities used to be "imperative". The motto of the University of Washington (Seattle) is "Lux Sit". Let there be light. Lux is light, Sit is the Imperative of Esse (to be).

robberhands

@JohnBobMead

I'll bite. I think (a) is correct, and (b) and (c) incorrect. Couldn't tell you why, that's just my gut feeling.

That's funny, my gut tells me the exact opposite.

Replies:   JohnBobMead
JohnBobMead

@robberhands

My gut feelings aren't always correct. That's why I said I couldn't tell you why, it was just my gut feeling. I have been proven, any number of times, to be wrong. On occasion I've turned out to be right, but I'll make no such assertions in this case since I haven't done any research on this subject, or if I did, it was many years ago; my memory is not the best. As was proven earlier today, on another thread.

Your gut feeling differs. Since there are three items, we could both be wrong. Or one of us could be right. So long as we keep with gut feelings, we'll have no basis for a mutually binding determination.

We'll now return this discussion to those who are actually researching the subject as presented by the Academic Authorities.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ernest Bywater

To whom it may concern,

Who cares? Not I.

robberhands
Updated:

@Ross at Play


I would like to try a little test? Does anyone care to offer their opinion on which, if any, of these three sentences are correct?

(a) Whom should I say is calling?

(b) I'll talk to whomever will listen.

(c) Whomever you choose will suit me.


(a) [Whom] subject [should I say] adjectival phrase [is calling] verb? = Whom is incorrect

(b) [I] subject [will talk] verb [to whom-] object [-ever will listen] adjectival phrase = whom is correct

(c) [Whom-] object [you] subject [choose] verb [-ever will suit me.] adjectival phrase = Whom is correct

Ross at Play

@JohnBobMead

Your gut feeling differs. Since there are three items, we could both be wrong. Or one of us could be right. So long as we keep with gut feelings, we'll have no basis for a mutually binding determination.
We'll now return this discussion to those who are actually researching the subject as presented by the Academic Authorities.

Hello. Your local self-appointed "authority" woke up not long ago. I started draft a post including the explanation in CMOS.
BTW, it says (a) and (b) are wrong, and (c) is right - so neither of you got them all right.
I had hoped others would find some useful, other references on this topic but that does not appear likely.
When my draft reached the point it would need to quote five sections from CMOS, I decided to pull three of those out into a new thread which I'll call 'What is a Linking Verb?'.
Don't hold you breath! I'm going to the mall now for my regular, two morning lattes. I might order extra shots today.

Ross at Play
Updated:

That's funny, my gut tells me the exact opposite.

I'm not surprised, and BTW, neither of you got all correct (according to CMOS, that is). They say the correct answers are that (a) and (b) are incorrect, but (c) is correct.
I think my test has shown that some ways these pronouns are used in sentences make it very tricky to work out what is "correct".

Are you ready to become totally confused? Here is what CMOS 5.63 says (with my bold font for emphasis):

'Who' and 'whoever' are the nominative forms - used as subjects [Whoever said that?] or predicate nominatives [It was who?].
'Whom' and 'whomever' are the objective forms - used as the object of a verb [You called whom?] or object of a preposition [To whom are you referring?].

Three problems arise with determining the correct case:
- First, because the words are so often found in the inverted syntax of an interrogative sentence, their true function in the sentence can be hard to see unless one sorts the words into standard subject–verb–object syntax. In this example, sorting the syntax into "I should say who is calling" makes the case easier to determine:
WRONG: Whom should I say is calling?
RIGHT: Who should I say is calling?

- Second, determining the proper case can be confusing when the pronoun serves a function (say, nominative) in a clause that itself serves a different function (say, objective) in the main sentence. It is the pronoun's function in its clause that determines its case. In the first example below, the entire clause 'whoever will listen' is the object of the preposition 'to'. But in the clause itself, 'whoever' serves as the subject, and that function determines its case. Similarly, in the second sentence 'whomever' is the object of 'choose' in the clause 'whomever you choose', so it must be in the objective case even though the clause itself serves as the subject of the sentence.
WRONG: I'll talk to whomever will listen.
RIGHT: I'll talk to whoever will listen.
WRONG: Whoever you choose will suit me.
RIGHT: Whomever you choose will suit me.

- As the second example above shows, a further distraction can arise when the 'who' clause contains a nested clause, typically of attribution or identification (here, 'you choose').

I hear moans of, "WTF is a predicate nominative?"
I'll start a new thread called 'What is a Predicate' attempting to explain that, but basically they are the little beasties which cause most of the problems people have when deciding which personal pronouns to use. I'm sorry, but the opening post for that will include about four quotes from the dreaded CMOS. I have looked for, but haven't found, any adequate explanations elsewhere.

Perhaps now, with what the rules say about what is "correct" all settled (WTF?), we can now move on to when and why people use these incorrectly, and what that means for out choices as authors.

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