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The popular TV game show, “Who Do You Trust?”, aired from 1957 to 1963. I learnt this from the New York Times’ (March 29) article written by Dick Cavett under the title “Tonight, Tonight, Its World Is Full of Blight.” http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/03/29/tonight-tonight-its-world-is-full-of-blight/?hp

“When Jack departed the show for good in 1962 it was predicted that “Tonight” would die on the vine. Who could replace that sentimental, explosive, compellingly neurotic master of late-night? And where would you even begin to look for such a one? The answer came. The boyishly nice-looking guy from Nebraska, collegiate and witty, who killed ’em out of the public eye at Friars’ roasts and trade lunches while hosting the ungrammatically named game showWho Do You Trust?” (TV’s earliest dumbing down?)

Though it comes with the author’s proviso (‘TV’s earliest dumbing down’), is the expression “Who do you trust (speak to/teach/scold/fire/vote for, and any transitive verbs)?” predominantly used today?

At middle school a long, long time ago, we were taught we should use the objective case for an interrogative followed by a transitive verb. If an English teacher corrected my writing “Who did you teach?” to “Whom did you teach?”, can I counter him by saying this usage is common among Anglophones?

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3 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

"Whom" is essentially dead in informal speech and writing in the Anglophone world. It is still current on standardized international English tests like the TOEFL, TOEIC, and IELTS, however.

Most native Anglophones don't use "whom" unless they're writing formal prose. My written and spoken English is more formal that that of most native Anglophones I know, and I, too, use "who", especially when it's the first word in the sentence, except in set phrases like "for whom the bell tolls" or when I'm being ultra-formal. Most Anglophones think using "whom" is pretentious these days.

WHO DO YOU LOVE (Bo Diddley, 1956, The Doors, George Thorogood, et al.)
Songwriters: HUNTER, IAN

I walk 47 miles of barbed wire,
I use a cobra-snake for a necktie,
I got a brand new house on the roadside,
Made from rattlesnake hide,
I got a brand new chimney made on top,
Made out of a human skull,
Now come on take a walk with me, Arlene,
And tell me, who do you love?

Who do you love?
Who do you love?
Who do you love?
Who do you love?

The usage is hundreds of years old, which doesn't make it grammatically correct, but it does attest to the consistent wont of English speakers to be inconsistent and follow their own instincts rather than a raft of arbitrary and often wrongheaded rules when speaking and writing their own language (their idiolects).

Whom Do You Love? sounds just awful to me. I would have expected to hear it at a party attended by educated social lions in the 19th and 20th centuries, had I been invited and alive at the time, however.

You certainly can protest to your English teacher that "who for whom" substitution is common -- almost universal, in fact -- in informal American English (and probably informal British English as well), but that cuts no ice on standardized English tests. It's one of those "In what contexts must I use whom instead of who for the objective pronoun, and in what contexts may I get away with using who instead of the grammatically correct whom?" questions.

English usage is context-driven, not rule-governed in most instances. And regardless of what anyone says to the contrary, you will be judged both positively and negatively (by different groups, of course) no matter what you say or how you say it. Some folks will think you're uneducated if you use a grammatically incorrect who instead of a grammatically correct whom, but others will find you a pompous showoff for daring to use highfalutin' lingo like whom in a land filled with people who pride themselves on their ignorance. Damned if you do and damned if you don't.

The best rule of thumb is to figure out whether you are expected to speak and write grammatically correct English or to use the register of English that the locals you hang with use: When in Rome... and all that jive.

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The grammatically correct version would indeed be "Whom do you trust?" However, the mistaken use of "who" where one should use "whom" is so pervasive among native English speakers, that to actually use the correct "whom" is often regarded as pedantic or unnatural.

Wikipedia has a lengthy discussion about the widespread replacement of "whom" by "who". It makes mention that:

According to the OED (2nd edition, 1989), whom is "no longer current in natural colloquial speech".

That article also says:

It was written in 1975 that: "Nearly half a century ago Edward Sapir predicted the demise of whom..."

So I don't really think the media can be blamed for this one.

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I'm not so sure that using who when you should use whom is “mistaken", at least not anymore, but although there are, no doubt, more than a few who can use whom without the least premeditation even in casual conversation, there are surely far more of whom one can say that their use of it indicates that they consider themselves careful and elegant speakers, and have no objection to being considered as such by others.

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