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I believe it's okay to end a sentence with a preposition. That seems to be the consensus here as well.

Now I think that when who is the object of a preposition, it should technically be whom, e.g. "To whom it may concern..."

So, is it acceptable to use whom and have a preposition at the end of the sentence? Which of the following sentences are okay:

  • Who are you talking to?
  • Whom are you talking to?
  • To whom are you talking?
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2 Answers

up vote 13 down vote accepted

The difference between the who/whom debate and the preposition-ending debate is that the former has its root in a long tradition of English grammar, while the latter arose from the editorial labours of an extremely picky generation of classicists.

The use of Subject/Object pronouns (who/whom, thee/thou) has largely atrophied, but until barely a century ago they were prevalent and common. It was second nature to most native speakers to use them appropriately. They came to England from Saxon and Norman (Germanic and Romantic languages) whose modern counterparts still employ them. However, since their use is understood but largely ignored in modern English, they are now considered an optional nicety.

As for prepositional endings, there was no such rule in medieval English. It was only the belief of those linguists who were educated in Latin and convinced that Latin is the true root of English (and therefore English grammar should conform with Latin) that caused this phenomenon to arise, in spite of there being no evidence of such a rule in earlier English writings. However, the myth prevailed to the point where it was accepted as "correct" grammar, and the resultant torturous grammatical constructions that have been perpetrated in the name of correctness make one feel ill.

So, in summary:

  • Who are you talking to? This is unambiguous and commonly used, and therefore mostly acceptable.
  • Whom are you talking to? This is a pleasant nicety, but not necessary. Certainly acceptable.
  • To whom are you talking? This is "correct", but will get you a filthy look and possibly a kick in the nuts in all but the most snobbish company.

For a really damning and amusing exposition of the whole issue, I strongly recommend Bill Bryson's excellent book, The Mother Tongue.

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I was with you, up to the mention of The Mother Tongue. It's an entertaining book by a good writer, but parts of it (not the history, but when he starts analysing words) are wildly wrong. –  Colin Fine Oct 12 '10 at 17:16
    
Quibble: you flipped 'thou' and 'thee'. –  Mechanical snail Jul 25 '12 at 1:02
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Yes, it's acceptable. It's a little odd because 'whom', almost uniquely amongst pronoun forms, has fallen out of common usage in the last century or so, so using it at all sounds strange to the modern ear.

  • Who are you talking to? Technically incorrect but ubiquitous these days, so mostly acceptable through usage.
  • Whom are you talking to? Technically correct but will get you funny looks, because people who are pedantic about 'who/whom' are expected to be pedantic (incorrectly) about terminal prepositions.
  • To whom are you talking? Completely fine, but considered a bit posh.
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'whom', almost uniquely amongst pronoun forms, has fallen out of common usage in the last century or so, so using it at all sounds strange to the modern ear I assume you mean in this specific context. I have very frequently heard people correcting the use of who/whom on television alone (The Office did a whole scene about it). –  Synetech Oct 11 '10 at 21:54
    
Maybe it's making a comeback. I generally only hear 'whom' in humorous pedantic contexts like The Office –  user1579 Oct 12 '10 at 11:01
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protected by RegDwigнt Jul 25 '12 at 0:00

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