Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I know that "its" is the possessive form of "it", but does this rule apply to the possessive form of phrases ending in "it"? Should I say, "the program runs on whomever runs its computer" or "the program runs on whomever runs it's computer" (also I hope I'm right that that should be "whomever" and not "whoever")?

share|improve this question
add comment

2 Answers

NOTE: Ignore this first bit and skip down to the EDIT section for the right answer. I misread the sentence on first (and second, and third) reading.


The closest sentence with correct grammar (but not sense) that matches your own is:

The program runs on whoever runs its computer.

Because the object of the preposition on is not *whomever, which is wrong, but rather the entire clause whoever runs its computer, in which whoever acts as the subject of the verb runs. The proximity of on is a red herring — or strange attractor, depending on which metaphor you prefer.

Since you can replace its with his — and not with it is — this shows that its must be correct.

However, all that said and done, I am unconvinced that this sentence makes sense. I bet you want:

The program runs on the computer of whoever runs it.

Because I don’t think it runs on people, but rather on computers.

Maybe you could almost get away with:

The program runs on whosever computer runs it.

But that seems a bit off, too.


EDIT

Now I see what you were going for! You were trying to use the Saxon genitive on the entire noun phrase:

The program runs on (whoever runs it)’s computer.

Which is just like:

The program runs on (the person who runs it)’s computer.

That way it would work the same way as these do:

It’s (the Queen of England)’s castle.
It’s (the man at the door)’s hat.
It’s (my wife and I)’s dinner.
He’s (all of those kids)’ friend.
He’s (all of us)’s friend.

Unfortunately, without parentheses, people will too easily misread it, as in fact did I the first few times through it.

While there is certainly some sense in what you say, it if nothing else garden-paths to the wrong it’s, which makes it look like a mistake even when it isn’t.

I’d still say it runs on the computer of whoever runs it myself, just to make sure.

share|improve this answer
    
Analysis iffy here. According to one source, 'I don't know who did that. (nominative because even though 'who' is the object of 'know', it is the subject of 'did' and it is loyal to the relative clause)' … Nicky. However, Fowler gives an example of the form “Do not follow he who breaks the law.” saying (I’m sure correctly) that the correct version is “Do not follow him who breaks the law.” –  Edwin Ashworth Apr 1 '13 at 23:13
    
@EdwinAshworth Mmm, what? Nothing you’ve written contradicts anything I have. We are not talking about a “he who” or a “him whom” sort of case: it is a whoever vs. whomever case, which is different from what you have offered. My analysis is certainly correct that when the object of the preposition is an entire clause, the subject of that clause is still in subject case. You may ask whomever you please, or even whoever pleases you, and it will get the same answer. –  tchrist Apr 1 '13 at 23:15
    
Wouldn't 'remaining loyal to the relative clause' require he who breaks the law? –  Edwin Ashworth Apr 1 '13 at 23:17
    
@EdwinAshworth No. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone. Although there him is the object of let, it is who who is the subject of is. Same idea with yours. Each to his own: him goes with let but who goes with is. Otherwise if you deleted “who is without sin” you would have incorrect grammar, which is the test with these things, since it would leave you with “let *he cast the first stone”, which is completely wrong. –  tchrist Apr 1 '13 at 23:18
    
I can't see a vast difference in structure between “Do not follow whoever breaks the law.” and “Do not follow him who breaks the law.” But one takes the subject case, one the object. Admittedly, I have seen an analysis that claims that 'whoever' is a mixed object/subject form, but that looks like a fudge to me. Of course, a noun would fulfil both roles without giving rise to much concern: “Do not follow a/the man who breaks the law.” –  Edwin Ashworth Apr 1 '13 at 23:29
show 2 more comments

Perhaps this will help with deciding what case to use for the relative pronoun. Whether or not a relative pronoun should be in the objective or in the nominative case is determined by the relative pronoun's function within its relative clause. Some examples:

the girl who loves me

Here, who is the subject of the verb loves in the relative clause who loves me; therefore one uses the nominative case, who, not the objective case, whom. It doesn't matter what is the function in the sentence of the relative pronoun's referent, girl . Thus,

The girl who loves me loves another as well.

and

I love the girl who loves me.

In the first example the referent is the subject of the verb of the sentence; in the second it is the object of the verb love. It doesn't make any difference.


the girl whom I love

Here, whom is the object of the verb love in the relative clause whom I love; therefore one uses the objective case, whom, not the nominative case, who. It doesn't matter what is the function in the sentence of the relative pronoun's referent, girl . Thus,

The girl whom I love loves another.

and

Another loves the girl whom I love.

In the first example the referent is the subject of the verb of the sentence; in the second it is the object of the verb loves. Again, it doesn't make any difference.

Some people get a little baffled when, instead of noun referents, there are pronoun referents, but it still works the same way:

The girl who loves me loves another as well. >> She who loves me loves another as well.

I love the girl who loves me. >> I love her who loves me.

The girl whom I love loves another. >> She whom I love loves another.

Another loves the girl whom I love. >> Another loves her whom I love.

But what really confuses people is when the relative pronoun has no explicit referent, which has been omitted by a kind of ellipsis, as it were:

Whoever loves me loves another as well.

I love whoever loves me.

Whomever I love loves another.

Another loves whomever I love.

In such cases, we say that the entire relative clause functions in the sentence as its relative pronoun's absent pronoun referent would have. This confuses people who then try to put the relative pronoun in the same case that its "missing" pronoun referent would have had.

share|improve this answer
    
So it should be "whoever". Dang. –  asmeurer Apr 2 '13 at 14:17
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.