Whom do you love? Not whom, that’s for sure

I hate hearing, reading, writing, or saying “whom”. And it’s not because I don’t know how to use it. I’ve taken home the blue ribbon at many a State Fair whom-off. The source of this discussion is the following article, published in 2007 but somehow still the subject of scrutiny today courtesy of Grammar Girl’s Facebook page.

We first look at this heading:

“Always Know Who You Should Correct”.

“Who” is a called a relative pronoun and is said to introduce a relative clause. That sounds a bit complicated, but it does give us a clue as to where to divide the sentence into its clauses. If “who” introduces the relative clause then let’s break it up there:

“Always Know”

“Who You Should Correct”

The easiest thing to start with is to identify the verbs and the nouns that form their subjects. 

“Always Know”

First we have the verb “Know”. The subject, “you”, is implied in the imperative construction “Always know”. Simple enough. Next comes our relative clause telling us what we should know.

“Who You Should Correct”

We have the verb phrase “should correct”. The nouns available for subject and object are “who” and “you”. This is where people usually start substituting things like “him”. Let’s just try to solve this by sticking to the words we have and the order in which they were given to us. The order is mixed up because you have a relative pronoun in play; however, in most clauses the subject is the noun that immediate precedes the verb.

“Should correct” is immediately preceded by “you” so I will assume that “you” is the subject:

“you should correct”.

That leaves “who” as the object by default. We know that “who” is the subject form and “whom” is the object form. I find “whom” to be infelicitous, overly formal-sounding, and impersonal. But let’s assume for the sake of argument that we have decided to use it, as Mr Manners did. So, yes, the heading should read:

“Always Know Whom You Should Correct”.

Picking out the subjects, verbs and, objects isn’t that tough. No matter how tricky things get in language, there is always a one-to-one correlation to some set of events, conditions, or situations in the real world. Even the most basic utterance of a little baby who points to his bottle and says “buhbuh” correlates to a complex system of existing and possible relationships between subjects, verbs, and objects in the real world. Let’s try the another example from the article:

“If you do wish to correct the grammar of someone whom you truly believe would welcome and appreciate the correction, then start by asking them if it is OK to offer a suggestion.”

This is a little trickier. Let’s try the same approach we used last time. Use your instincts to mark off the clauses.

“If you wish to correct the grammar of someone”

“whom you truly believe would welcome and appreciate the correction”

“then start by asking them if it is OK to offer a suggestion”

It looks like the clause we are interested in is

“whom you truly believe would welcome and appreciate the correction”.

Let’s identify the nouns and verbs:

Verbs: believe, would, “welcome and appreciate”.

Nouns: whom, you, the correction.

We already know from context that the article is about the etiquette of you correcting someone else’s grammar. Let’s use that knowledge to cheat. We are not concerned with “you” welcoming or appreciating anything.  Therefore “you” must be doing the believing.  Let’s start matching up verbs based on what we know:

“you truly believe”

“whom . . . would welcome and appreciate”

“The correction” is the odd noun out. Is the correction likely to be doing any believing, welcoming, or appreciating? Not in this case. It must be the object of one of those verbs.

“you truly believe the correction”

or

“whom . . .  would welcome and appreciate the correction”

Since the article is concerned with the second option, let’s go with that combination of nouns and verbs.

Now we have the various relationships lined up. We are concerned with what you believe about how the other person will receive your corrections. The clause “you truly believe” looks to be embedded inside the clause “whom (you truly believe) would welcome and appreciate the correction”. Let’s just continue to replace it with three dots as above:

“whom . . .  would welcome and appreciate the correction”

We know that “who” is the subject form and “whom” is the object form. It should be:

“who . . .  would welcome and appreciate the correction”

and

“If you do wish to correct the grammar of someone who you truly believe would welcome and appreciate the correction, then start by asking them if it is OK to offer a suggestion.”

Yes, sir, I hate hearing, reading, writing, or saying “whom”.

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