Another “Kryptonite” Issue: who vs whom

From Daily Writing Tips:

For all practical purposes, the pronoun form whom is ready to go the way of ye, an old form of the pronoun you.

Ideally, speakers who do not understand that who is a subject form and whom is an object form would simply stop using whom altogether. The forms are so similar that we can get along just fine by using who for both. Millions of English speakers already do.

Speakers who have mastered the grammar concepts transitive verb and object pronoun are free to use both forms until a generation arises that knows not whom.

That time may be delayed, however, by a segment of English speakers who do not understand the object function of whom, but who have decided that whom must be a more elegant way of saying who.

The forms who and whom function like the other pronouns, such as he and himshe and her, and I and me. The first form in each pair is used as the subject of a verb. The second form is used as the object of a verb or preposition.

Admittedly, the subject/object forms of the personal pronouns are under siege from speakers who use subject forms as objects and vice versa, as in these examples from the web:

Me and my friends are in class.
This trip proved to my husband and I that we can still travel.

CORRECT: My friends and I are in class.
CORRECT: This trip proved to my husband and me that we can still travel.

Nevertheless, I/m, he/him, she/her, we/us, they/them have not yet reached the state of confusion that exists with who/whom.

Who as the subject of a verb
Who is that masked man? (Who is the subject of the verb is.)

Garett Morgan is the man who invented the yellow traffic light. (Who is the subject of invented.)

Whom as the object of a verb
The first employee they hired was Jeff Johnson, whom Knight had met at Stanford. (Whom is the object of had met.)

Whom do you prefer in this election? (Whom is the object of do prefer.)

Whom as the object of a preposition
Figure out how much you owe, to whom and on what terms, and start paying it off. (Whom is the object of the preposition to.)

The Daniels have five children, three of whom are adopted. (Whom is the object of the preposition of.)

Incorrect uses of whom (These examples are from printed sources.)

They were aware of students participating whom had not participated in the past.

. . . a detained Palestinian whom, according to police, stabbed two people in a supermarket.

Springdale police are searching for this man whom they say robbed an Arvest Bank branch Thursday.

CORRECT: They were aware of students participating who had not participated in the past. (Who is the subject of had participated.)

CORRECT: a detained Palestinian who, according to police, stabbed two people in a supermarket . . . (Who is the subject of stabbed. Beware of intervening phrases like “according to.”)

CORRECT: Springdale police are searching for this man who they say robbed an Arvest Bank branch Thursday. (Who is the subject of robbed. “They say” intervenes between the subject and verb of a relative clause.)

Link to the rest at Daily Writing Tips

PG doesn’t think he has a problem with who and whom (although his mother did work hard with him on the proper usage), but can’t say he has a strong opinion on the question of whether whom should be sent to the language dump.

3 thoughts on “Another “Kryptonite” Issue: who vs whom”

  1. Yikes!

    I need to read the article many times just to understand their explanation. I suspect that I missed that week in grade school when they were teaching this stuff.

    Reading it I kept asking, “Whom are they talking to,” and I suspect that I should ask, “Who is their audience.” (I have no idea if I even said that right.)

    – Rules are for non-fiction, not for fiction.

    In dialogue, both “who” and “whom” are always used the way the character speaks, and the way the narrator speaks.

    I use “Whom” when I want the character to appear snooty. Whether they say it right or wrong, the still sound snooty.

    – There is no right way or wrong way, in fiction.

    It’s like using “all right” vs “alright”, it’s whatever the character says.

    I will routinely see negative comments about Stephen King novels when he uses words the way the character does, misspellings, made up words, etc…

    In Duma Key the character had massive brain trauma and will often misspeak, and one review complained about all of the misspellings. The Reader was so trapped in “the rules” that he could not see this as a feature not a flaw.

  2. I’m with PG. The redoubtable Mrs. Roulier taught subjects and objects in 7th grade English with a vengeance that burned the lesson deep into my tissues. I don’t often make who/whom mistakes. However, making the distinction as I do feels like excess baggage. We could probably shove “whom” off the dock with no consequences. But I won’t be the one pushing.

  3. Just be glad it’s English and doesn’t have either a formal form of pronouns or determinative grammatical gender. Let alone both. If you think “who/whom” is fun in English, have a good time with even as simple a system as German!

    Why yes, I was a grammar nerd in high school who corrected the teacher when necessary, did you really need to ask?


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