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I know similar questions have been asked before, but I'm having trouble reconciling the following sentence, received in an email:

Can we ask whomever is your contact there to email us a job so we can check backward compatibility?

I could understand using objective case if the sentence were "can we ask (him) to email...", but I get tripped up considering "whomever" to be the subject of "(he) is your contact there".

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Edited the title: subjective and objective (without a subsequent "case") have meanings that are almost entirely divorced from subject and object, and you seem to be asking about the latter, not the former. – Marthaª Feb 25 '11 at 21:05
@Martha: Thanks. I was at sort of a loss and the word "case" didn't surface... – PSU Feb 25 '11 at 21:36
up vote 5 down vote accepted

The part that tricked the original writer is that "whomever is your contact there" is a noun clause that is collectively the object of "can we ask...". The rule is that, in a situation like that, you're supposed to look inside the clause for your objective/subjective case, though, so actually the sentence should use "whoever", as you suspected.

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that's what I thought, and that's why I thought it. – PSU Feb 25 '11 at 21:46

I think most prescriptive sources with an opinion on the matter would consider this to be a hypercorrection. The logic is that the clause must have a subject, and in the absence of anything else, "whoever" is deemed the subject. The hypercorrection probably occurs because:

  • "whomever" is an incredibly rare word, and the choice between "who" and "whom" is probably no longer part of the naturally acquired syntax of English;
  • there are other, clearly grammatical, instances of "exceptional case marking" where the subject of a clause takes on the objective case due to influence from outside the clause ("they hoped for him to be available").

If you're ever wondering whether to distinguish between "whoever" and "whomever", I would suggest a really simple rule:

Don't ever use "whomever": it's a pointless and old-fashioned.

I would suggest not getting bogged down in spurious debates about "subject" and "object" here: it's nowadays perfectly natural English to say: "I'll give it to whoever", "Pick whoever", "Pick whoever you like" etc.

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