Does it matter?

Who and whom … does the latter term matter to you?

From The Economist:

Since whom is becoming less common, many people can’t use it properly even when they are aiming for Formal. (A common mistake is using it in a subject role, for example: That’s the candidate whom I hope will win the election. Here, the mistake is in thinking that I hope turns who into an object. But the clause is really who will win the election, with I hope just an interpolation.) The unease over whom just makes people avoid it more.

I think whom has a long life left in it, though, for non-grammatical reasons. Educated people prize language, and the mastery of Formal. Their status at the top of the social heap is an incentive to treat the proper use of whom are a sign of intelligence, not just the Formal register. They do most of the edited and published writing we consume. And so whom will live in print for a good long time, even as many of those same people ignore it when they’re chatting at the proverbial water cooler.

Kids will go on reaching secondary school being taught, for the first time, how to use who‘s strange cousin. The will also be learning a meta-linguistic lesson: sometimes you don’t use the language that comes most naturally to you. And finally, when they have kids, they’ll start explaining the whole strange story to them in turn.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Paul D.

    “Kids will go on reaching secondary school being taught, for the first time, how to use who‘s strange cousin.”
    Now, this is a quandary: the possessive form of “who” is “whose,” while “who’s” is the contraction of “who is.”
    And yet, since “whom” is the “strange cousin” of “who,” it would seem that “who’s” is correct in this instance.
    My head hurts . . .

  • scotmcknight

    Where’s Bob Brague when we need him?!

  • tdsutter

    For me, I’m always having trouble with “fine/good”, and “that/which”. The one that’s fingernails on a blackboard is “not hardly.” Ooo, I grimace when I hear that. I understand that it is now acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition.

    I can’t hardly wait for the election to be over; although I still don’t know who/whom I’ll vote for!

  • Paul Willingham

    I saw a reference to this article in one of our local papers. One of my favorite fiction writers, Robert B. Parker, often makes a point of using who and whom in some of his sparkling dialogue. I don’t want to see it die.

  • http://krusekronicle.com Michael W. Kruse

    Of course we must keep both. Just think of all the unemployed editors without them.

  • P.

    I emphasize “who” and “whom” when I teach business writing, but it does seem a bit silly to have two separate words. I’m fine with “whom” going away.

  • RM

    Whom gives a rat’s patootie?

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    That is one of the only linguistic nuances that my kids ain’t bugging me about.

  • Jerry

    My brother, a high school English teacher, calls this the “disappearing accusative case” and “whom” isn’t the only endangered species.

  • Alan K

    Not a day goes by that I do not remember this adage from my intro Greek prof: “Language is usage.”

  • http://www.righteousacorn.blogspot.com/ Anita Wilson

    Really? R E A L L Y? Grammar? That’s the debate. The use of language will always be subjective. Pay attention to what is said and not judge “how” it is said. That being stated, it is nice to comment on something I can actually change and better myself in the process. I don’t believe the election for president will afford me this feeling or benefit.

  • Pat

    “Educated people prize language”

    Yes!

  • Percival

    I’m not sure about this post. Why was it written? For who? To who? Whomever wrote it must be an idiot! : )


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