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.
  • Are you comfortable with him? (correct)
  • Are you comfortable with whom he is? (??)

  • You're comfortable with whom he is. (??)

  • Are you comfortable with who he is? (??)

  • You're comfortable with whom? (correct)

Why does adding he is change the usage of who/whom? I understand that the is is reflective and takes the nominative case, but my brain is not "computing" because I've never seen anything following with ever be nominative...until now.

Please enlighten me.

PS: There are no tags for 'nominative' or 'dative' or likely any of the other cases.

share|improve this question
    
    
I see... subclauses, eh? –  emragins Apr 21 '11 at 20:59
3  
I think the technical term is "a total mess that confuses everyone". –  RegDwigнt Apr 21 '11 at 21:02
    
@RegDwight, indeed! I spend far too long thinking about this particular problem. It gives me sleepless nights! –  Karl Apr 22 '11 at 10:18
add comment

2 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Whom would be wrong in your example; it should be who. The reason is that a relative pronoun functions as part of the relative clause, not of the main clause. Don't let the question mark fool you: who is a relative pronoun here, not an interrogative one.

Are you comfortable with [the person] who he is?

This shows the structure of your sentence a little better. The person, the hypothetical antecedent of the relative clause who he is, is left out or enclosed in the relative pronoun who. In any case, who is part of the relative clause, not the main clause. That is why we should be looking at its function within the subordinate clause: it is subject (or subject complement) in who he is; therefore we need who, not whom.

It does not matter at all what function the (explicit or implicit) antecedent has in the main clause:

I fear him who gave me life.

I fear him whom I have wronged.

He who gave me life frightens me.

He whom I have wronged frightens me.


If who/whom is used as an interrogative pronoun, i.e. not introducing a subordinate clause, it is its function in the main clause that matters:

Who are you?

Whom do you see?


Note that who is now more frequent than whom in any case, and is accepted by most wherever traditionalists would have whom as explained above.

share|improve this answer
2  
+1 for him who writes good examples –  z7sg Ѫ Apr 21 '11 at 21:21
add comment

“Who he is” is just a noun phrase. As such, it cannot take any further inflection, no matter whether it’s included as a subclause:

Are you comfortable with who he is?
Are you comfortable with him?

You are comfortable with who he is.
You are comfortable with him.

Just like a phrase with whom, such as “whom he loves”, doesn’t change in the same context:

Are you comfortable with whom he loves?
Are you comfortable with her?

You are comfortable with whom he loves.
You are comfortable with her.

Use of who or whom is entirely dependent on the contents of the clause, not the phrase in which the clause appears.

share|improve this answer
    
You do not know how often seeing this wrong in printed books really irks me. Somehow, the writers and editors alike were all playing hooky on whatever day the mandatory lesson about such things was presented back in school. –  tchrist Jan 1 '13 at 16:59
    
'There seems to be no agreed unitary rule governing the inflection of who where it functions as subject of a clause to which it is not adjacent' (Geoffrey Pullum). For more, see here chronicle.com/blogs/linguafranca/2012/11/30/… –  Barrie England Jan 1 '13 at 19:38
    
@BarrieEngland: The motivating example of that article doesn’t convince me. I read “some contend” in “whom some contend was autistic” as parenthetical. Even if I didn’t, whom would seem obviously wrong because “some contend he was autistic”, not “some contend *him was”. –  Jon Purdy Jan 1 '13 at 20:04
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.