Sign Up For Our Free Grammar E-Newsletter

Whoever Would Use Whomever: Read On

Last week we discussed Americans’ odd fondness for whom. It’s a word that few really understand, but it just sounds so darned cosmopolitan.

If we’re infatuated with whom, we’re over the moon about whomever. You hear it everywhere. People love saying it—right or wrong.

Just recently, a major American newspaper ran a headline that said “…whomever that may be.” When the story jumped to a second page, the headline changed to “…whomever it is.” Horrors! In both cases, this was first-degree whomever abuse.

Like that errant headline writer, too many of us think that whoever and whomever mean the same thing—and that whomever is the sexier choice.

To determine whether to use whoever or whomever, last week’s shorthand rule for who and whom applies: he = whoever and him = whomever. Whoever is always a subject; whomever is always an object. That’s why whomever it is and whomever that may be could never be correct. We say he is, not him is, so we must say whoever it is and whoever that may be.

The presence of whoever or whomever indicates a dependent clause, as in this sentence: Give it to whoever asks for it first. (The dependent clause is whoever asks for it first.) You might think the correct word should be whomever, an object pronoun, since you’d say Give it to her or Give it to them. But here is the rule: Always use whoever or whomever to agree with the verb (asks) in that dependent clause, regardless of the rest of the sentence.

I ask for it, he or she asks for it, we or they ask for it. I, he, she, we, and they are subject pronouns. Therefore, Give it to whoever asks for it first.

On the other hand: We will hire whoever/whomever you recommend. Since you recommend me (or him, her, us, them), the right answer is whomever, the object of recommend, the verb in the dependent clause.

So the key is the verb in that dependent clause. Remember that, and may all your whomevers be winners.

POP QUIZ

1. Choose whoever/whomever you prefer.

2. Choose whoever/whomever you think will win.

3. Whoever/whomever is chosen, we must pick wisely.

4. We discussed it with whoever/whomever we figured might be interested.

5. Make sure whoever/whomever you hire turns out to be qualified.

6. Make sure you hire whoever/whomever turns out to be qualified.

POP QUIZ ANSWERS

1. Choose whomever you prefer. (you prefer him)

2. Choose whoever you think will win. (you think I will win)

3. Whoeveris chosen, we must pick wisely. (he is chosen)

4. We discussed it with whoeverwe figured might be interested. (we figured they might be interested)

5. Make sure whomever you hire turns out to be qualified. (you hire him)

6. Make sure you hire whoever turns out to be qualified. (she turns out to be qualified)

To comment on this grammar tip, click on the title.

Posted on Sunday, September 8, 2013, at 12:39 pm


Whom Abuse Is Rampant

Consider the humble pronoun. It seems that fewer and fewer Americans know when to say “she” or “he” or “me” instead of “her,” “him,” or “I.”

It used to be that little Gloria would run home and tell her mother, “Me ’n’ Annie saw a walrus!” Whereupon her mom would say, “ ‘Annie and I,’ dear.” Now, alas, Gloria’s mother thinks “me ’n’ Annie” is just fine.

So why is it that so many pronoun-challenged Americans are infatuated with whom? It’s a word that’s become exotic and mysterious, and people say it when they want to sound authoritative, because even if they’re misusing it, chances are their listeners won’t know.

Let’s get technical. The pronoun who is always the subject. Use who wherever you would use the subjective pronouns I, he, she, we, or they. It is correct to say Who wants to go? because we would say She wants to go or We want to go.

The pronoun whom is always an object. Use whom wherever you would use the objective pronouns me, him, her, us, or them. It is not correct to say Who did you choose? We would say Whom because you choose me or him or them.

A handy memory aid: who = he, whom = him.

Here is an all-too-common misuse of whom: He is a man whom I believe can do the job. The writer chose whom, thinking it was the object of believe. But look what happens when we rearrange the sentence: He is a man whom can do the job, I believe. Obviously, the proper word is who.

Compare that with He is a man who I admire. Because we would say I admire him, the sentence should read He is a man whom I admire.

The key to mastering whom comes down to knowing the difference between a subject and an object.

POP QUIZ

1. Who/whom do you think will win the prize?

2. Who/whom do you think you’ll vote for?

3. She is someone who/whom I always counted on.

4. She is someone who/whom I always said could be counted on.

5. Who/whom are you going to believe?

QUIZ ANSWERS

1. Who do you think will win the prize? (they will)

2. Whom do you think you’ll vote for? (for him)

3. She is someone whom I always counted on. (I counted on her)

4. She is someone who I always said could be counted on. (she could be counted on)

5. Whom are you going to believe? (you’re going to believe me)

To comment on this grammar tip, click on the title.

Posted on Sunday, September 8, 2013, at 12:32 pm


Reflexive Pronouns

Loyal reader Bill P. and others have written in commenting on what seems to be a growing misuse of words known as reflexive pronouns. Have you either heard or seen in writing a sentence like this, “Please give it to John or myself”? Is that right or wrong? Let’s have a look.

Rule: Reflexive pronouns—myself, himself, herself, itself, themselves, ourselves, yourself, yourselves—should be used only when they refer back to another word in the sentence. (A reflexive pronoun reflects the action described by the verb.)

Correct:
I worked myself to the bone.
(The word myself refers back to the word I.)

Incorrect:
Please give it to John or myself.
(The word myself does not refer back to another word.)

Correct:
Please give it to John or me.
(Why do some people use myself rather than me in the sentence above? Is it because it sounds more “upper class”? Possibly—however, it is incorrect grammar.)

Although the following example is not strictly an incorrect reflexive pronoun because it does not reflect the action described by the verb, the principle is the same.

Incorrect:
My brother and myself did it.

Correct:
My brother and I did it.

 

Pop Quiz

1A. Please call either Juanita or myself when you get this message.
1B. Please call either Juanita or me when you get this message.

2A. The chief of staff and myself want to thank you for your hard work.
2B. The chief of staff and I want to thank you for your hard work.

3A. Since we each have a job, we are able to support ourselves.
3B. Since we each have a job, we are able to support us.

 

Answers

1A. Please call either Juanita or myself when you get this message.
1B. Please call either Juanita or me when you get this message. (Correct)

2A. The chief of staff and myself want to thank you for your hard work.
2B. The chief of staff and I want to thank you for your hard work. (Correct)

3A. Since we each have a job, we are able to support ourselves. (Correct)
3B. Since we each have a job, we are able to support us.

To comment on this grammar tip, click on the title.

Posted on Wednesday, August 22, 2012, at 10:44 am


Its vs. It’s

Would you like to know the #1 Grammar Error?
Hint:
The word involved is small and it’s contained in this sentence.

That’s right: its vs. it’s
Yet the two rules are actually quite easy to remember.

Rule 1: When you mean it is or it has, use an apostrophe.

Examples:
It’s a nice day.
It’s your right to refuse the invitation.
It’s been great getting to know you.

Rule 2: When you are using its as a possessive, don’t use the apostrophe.

Examples:
The cat hurt its paw.
The furniture store celebrated its tenth anniversary.

 
Note: From what we understand, the possessive was also written it’s until a couple of hundred years ago. While we don’t know for certain, it is possible that the apostrophe was dropped in order to parallel possessive personal pronouns like hers, theirs, yours, ours, etc.”

To comment on this grammar tip, click on the title.

Posted on Thursday, April 12, 2012, at 5:35 pm


I vs. Me (Review)

I get more questions about pronoun usage, particularly I vs. me, than any other topic. So, here is a review that should help you feel more secure about your choices. For more on the topic, click here.

Should we say, “She and I went to the store”? Or is it correct to say, “She and me went to the store”?

Is it, “He put suntan lotion on him and I”? Or would you say, “He put suntan lotion on him and me”?

Many of us were taught to be suspicious of me, as though uttering this “dirty” word would make us sound uneducated. But the question of whether to use I or me comes down to whether you are using the word as a subject or as an object in the sentence. Both words are pronouns, but I is a subject pronoun while me is an object pronoun.

So, in the sentence, “She and I went to the store,” the correct word to use would be I rather than me. Why? Because I is the subject of the sentence. (Who is going to the store? She and I are going to the store.)

One good way to test this rule is to see how it sounds when you use each pronoun individually: It sounds right to say, “She went to the store.” You would also say, “I went to the store.”

“He put suntan lotion on him and me” would be correct because him and me are objects. Specifically, they are objects of the preposition on. “He put suntan lotion on him” is obviously correct rather than “on he.” You would also say, “He put suntan lotion on me,” not “on I.”

Pop Quiz
Select the correct sentence.

1A. Arlene asked he and I to complete the job.
1B. Arlene asked him and me to complete the job.

2A. He and I completed the job for Arlene.
2B. Him and me completed the job for Arlene.

Answers to Pop Quiz

1B. Arlene asked him and me to complete the job.
2A. He and I completed the job for Arlene.

To comment on this grammar tip, click on the title.

Posted on Tuesday, June 9, 2009, at 9:30 am