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Sweating the Small Stuff

At a football game a few weeks ago, Notre Dame University sold soda in cups that said, “Figthing Irish.” Did no one at this distinguished school have the time or pride to proofread a two-word slogan?

Here are a few other items we’ve seen recently and now wish we hadn’t…

Back to Basics Many professional journalists can’t find the subjects in their own sentences, like this one: “The final installment of those tapes—340 hours—were made public.” Make it “was made public.” The writer, distracted by “tapes” and “hours,” forgot that the subject, “installment,” was singular.

Ho-Hum: More Who-Whom Recently in this space, we discussed the difference between who (subject) and whom (object). Pronoun confusion has plagued our language for centuries. Some now claim that English would be fine without whom. But whom holds some mysterious attraction for people who shouldn’t be using it, because they keep getting it wrong, as in “…a man whom he thought was ready” (make it “who he thought was ready”).

Compare that with “Brown, who investigators had trouble reaching for interviews” and “Schulman, who he met on a blind date.” Here the writers were handed whom on a silver platter, but instead chose “who.”

How the Cookie Deconstructs Flawed sentences like those result from either carelessness or grammatical cluelessness. Just as prevalent, and deadly, is poor word choice caused by fuzzy thinking. Here’s a writer who sabotaged his own metaphor when he wrote, “…before the whole house of cards crumbles.”

Dead leaves and old walls crumble. A house of cards collapses.

POP QUIZ

Try to spot the errors or lapses in these sentences, written by professionals.

1. “The case is the latest in a series that have fueled public protests.”
2. “He was convicted in absentia to 20 years in prison.”
3. “…and Steenkamp, whom he believed was still in the bedroom.”
4. “A deadline to Syria to turnover its weapons.”
5. “The first time either of them have heard the recording.”

POP QUIZ ANSWERS

Not all of these sentences have one right answer. See if your remedies agree with ours.

1. The case is the latest in a series of events that have fueled public protests.
2. He was sentenced in absentia to 20 years in prison.
3. …and Steenkamp, who he believed was still in the bedroom. (i.e., who was still in the bedroom, he believed)
4. A deadline to Syria to turn over its weapons.
5. The first time either of them has heard the recording.

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Posted on Wednesday, October 2, 2013, at 2:19 pm


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)

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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)

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


Whoever vs. Whomever

In the “English Rules” section of our website, GrammarBook.com, you will find our simple explanation for determining whether to use who or whom.

Briefly, this is the trick:
who = he (subject pronouns)
whom = him (object pronouns)

Example: Who/Whom is at the door?
He is at the door.

Example: For who/whom should I vote?
Should I vote for him?

To determine whether to use whoever or whomever,  the he/him trick still applies:
he = whoever
him = whomever

Rule 1: The presence of whoever or whomever indicates a dependent clause. Use whoever or whomever to agree with the verb in that dependent clause, regardless of the rest of the sentence.

Examples:
Give it to whoever/whomever asks for it first.
He asks for it first. Therefore, whoever is correct.

We will hire whoever/whomever you recommend.
You recommend him. Therefore, whomever is correct.

We will hire whoever/whomever is most qualified.
He is most qualified. Therefore, whoever is correct.

 

Rule 2: When the entire whoever/whomever clause is the subject of the verb that follows the clause, analyze the clause to determine whether to use whoever or whomever.

Examples:
Whoever is elected will serve a four-year term.
Whoever is the subject of is elected. The clause whoever is elected is the subject of will serve.

Whomever you elect will serve a four-year term.
Whomever is the object of elect. Whomever you elect is the subject of will serve.

 

Pop Quiz

  1. Omar will talk about his girlfriend with whoever/whomever asks him.
  2. Kimiko donates her time to whoever/whomever needs it most.
  3. Quinton will work on the project with whoever/whomever you suggest.
  4. Whoever/Whomever wins the lottery will become a millionaire.

 

Pop Quiz Answers

  1. Omar will talk about his girlfriend with whoever asks him.
  2. Kimiko donates her time to whoever needs it most.
  3. Quinton will work on the project with whomever you suggest.
  4. Whoever wins the lottery will become a millionaire.

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Posted on Sunday, May 27, 2007, at 9:41 pm


Who vs. Whom

Let’s crack the code for who and whom. It is easier than you might imagine. In addition, I will give you the technique for learning when to use whoever vs. whomever. The following are informal methods rather than rules; however, they really work!

Rule: Use who when you could replace it with he.

Example: Who/whom is standing by the gate?

We would say, “He is standing by the gate.” So who is correct.

Example: Gail wished she knew who/whom won.

Gail wished is a subject and verb pair (also called a clause). She knew is another subject and verb pair (clause). Who/whom won, the third clause, is the one we care about here. We would say, “He won.” So who is correct.

Rule:
Use whom when you could replace it with him.

Example: To who/whom am I speaking?

Let’s turn the question into a sentence to make it easier: I am speaking to who/whom. We would say, “I am speaking to him.” Therefore, whom is correct.

Example: Hank wanted to know who/whom they trusted.

Hank wanted to know is a clause. That leaves who/whom they trusted. Again, let’s turn the question into a sentence: Who/whom did they trust? We would say, “They trusted him.” Therefore, whom is correct.

Now, wouldn’t it be nice to know when to use whoever and whomever with confidence? Then see our grammar tips Whoever vs. Whomever and Whoever Would Use Whomever: Read On.

 

Pop Quiz

1. Who/Whom should I ask to the dance?
2. Cedric hasn’t decided who/whom should be appointed yet.
3. I’m looking for an assistant on who/whom I can depend.

 

Pop Quiz Answers

1. Whom should I ask to the dance?
2. Cedric hasn’t decided who should be appointed yet.
3. I’m looking for an assistant on whom I can depend.

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Posted on Monday, May 1, 2006, at 3:46 pm