This seems to happen every time I go to my local bagel shop. Everyone is waiting in a line, and when the cashier is ready to help the next person, he/she asks, "Can I help who's next?" or "May I help who's next?" This seems wrong to me, shouldn't it be "Can I help whomever is next?" or "May I help whomever is next?"
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This construction is indeed peculiar. Contrary to what one of the other answers seduces us to believe, it actually is not quite analogous to "I know who shot him" and the like. Geoff Pullum over at Language Log explains why:
So why did this construction survive in some places? And in which? Geoff Pullum initially observed it in Rockport, Massachusetts. He later adds, "Lots of people have now written to me to confirm hearing or using the expression in coffee shops, bookstores [...], up to about fifteen years ago [that is, around 1990], especially in the upper Midwest, which could be the cradle of the phrase." At the same time, M. Lynne Murphy of Separated by a Common Language fame has been hearing it "a lot in shops and cafés in Brighton". She picks the ball up from where Pullum left it and entertains some theories.
I actually would suggest who is correct here regardless of the declining existence of whom. I parse the "who is next" as its own inner clause that is all collectively the object of "Can I help". A similar example might be:
Where the thing that is known is the collective clause "who shot him" rather than just the who/whom. It would be rather odd to say:
There are many formalisms that English speakers do not observe in daily or regular conversation. The usage of who/whom is one of them. In formal writing, one should use who strictly in the subjective sense, while reserving whom for the objective. Here are some examples illustrating this proper usage:
My dictionary (installed on my Macbook dashboard, probably Oxford American) notes that whom has largely disappeared from everyday speech, but strongly suggests that the distinction between who/whom be observed in formal writing. I'll give some common examples where who is widely used instead of whom:
perfectly illustrates how English is used in real-life situations. For all intents and purposes, that question is correct, given the informal context in which it was asked.
protected by RegDwigнt♦ Jun 27 '12 at 8:57
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