Grammar Today


Today's lesson, my children, concerns a request that I deal with a pair of troublesome pronouns, who and whom.

I believe that this will cease to be a problem in future years, as I see the word whom being used less and less frequently. Many speakers of English think that whom sounds too stuffy or pretentious. So, its use is diminishing. However, some of you may be interested in the correct usage of these words, while we still have them both. On to the lesson.

Who is a subjective case pronoun, to be used in the subject position, as in the following example:

Who wrote "Sister Mary Grammatica is a bitch" on the chalkboard????

You see, who is the subject of the verb wrote.

Whom is an objective case pronoun, to be used in the object position:

Is this the party to whom I am speaking? (Think I am speaking to whom.)

Whom is correct, as it is the object of the preposition to.

Likewise, use whoever in the subject or subject complement (a noun, pronoun, or adjective following a linking verb) position:

A holy card will go to whoever washes the chalkboard.

Now, you may think that the word should be whomever, because it appears to be the object of the preposition to. This is a logical but incorrect assumption. The correct word is whoever because it serves as the subject of the verb washes. In this case, the object of the preposition to is the entire subordinate clause whoever washes the chalkboard.

See this sentence:

I know who you are, you naughty child!

Who is correct here, because it is the subject complement of the subordinate clause, who you are (think you are who). You is the subject of the linking verb are, and who is the subject complement of the subject you. A linking verb means that what follows the verb in some way completes the subject, either by renaming it or describing it. In this case, the word who renames the subject you.

There is one exception to these rules. Use whom when it is the subject of the infinitive (to, as in a verb phrase, like to be). See this sentence:

In the case of these conflicting stories, I don't know whom to believe.

In this sentence, whom is the subject of the infinitive to believe.

Now, are you ready for a quiz? Excellent.

Choose the correct pronoun in each of the following sentences. I shall post the correct answers at a later date.

1) (Whoever, whomever) thought all this boring crap up should be shot.

2) "Come on, take a little walk with me, baby, and tell me (who, whom) do you love?"

3) I shall drag (whoever, whomever) did this to the Mother Superior's office by her ear.

4) (Who, Whom)'s your daddy?

5) (Who, Whom) did Sister identify as her pet in the last class period? (This is a tricky one!)

Next, the vexing verbs lie/lay. Once again, it all depends upon the position.

Good lay day and good grammar!

Sister Mary Grammatica, SMG

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