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The sentence in question is "I had known (who/whom) my opponent was". Would you use who or whom in this context, and why? Thanks.

marked as duplicate by MrHen, cornbread ninja 麵包忍者, MetaEd, Kris, Andrew Leach Oct 11 '13 at 6:33

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  • 2
    If you had learned the actual rule, which is "Don't use whom, ever", you would know the answer to this question. Learn it now, go forth in virtue, and trouble not this forum with that question again. – John Lawler Oct 11 '13 at 0:47
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    In Great-Britain, "whom" is very much in use. You should always write , for instance, "To whom it may concern". Only the illiterate people, the same ones who confuse "they" and "them", make such a mistake. – ex-user2728 Oct 11 '13 at 1:07
  • Geoffrey Pullum discussed this particular question in Lingua Franca last year: chronicle.com/blogs/linguafranca/2012/11/30/…. His conclusion was that ‘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. But John is absolutely right. Use who) and there is no problem. I disagree with Mark about the use of _whom in the UK. It used only in formal contexts, and in the speech of pretentious persons. – Barrie England Oct 11 '13 at 6:34


Few people nowadays use "whom" in everyday speech anyway, but traditionally and formally it is used when it is the object of the verb in the subordinate clause.


I knew who my opponent was.


I knew whom my opponent had beaten.

(I changed "had known" to "knew" because out of context the pluperfect reads very oddly)

  • Quick tip: Use who for he/she and whom for him/her. E.g. "To whom does this hat belong?" "To him." // "Who stole my hat?" "He did." This may not always work, but it's useful in most cases. – userNaN Oct 11 '13 at 0:25
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    @userNaN: that tip works for direct questions, but when people are confused about it it's usually when who(m) is a relative pronoun or (as here) introduces an indirect question. In these cases there are two verbs - the matrix verb and the one in the subordinate clause - and people get confused about which one is relevant to deciding who or whom. – Colin Fine Oct 11 '13 at 0:28
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    That's why the only useful rule is not to use it if you're in any doubt whatsoever. And if you're not in any doubt whatsoever, you can write down the actual rule, right? The one that covers all situations? No? If not, just don't use whom. Ever. Because it's never necessary except in fixed phrases, like To whom it may concern or For whom the bell tolls. Anybody who thinks it makes you sound ignorant is giving themself away as clueless about language. So ignore them. – John Lawler Oct 11 '13 at 2:57
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    @John: there's another possible easy rule, which I think a lot of people follow: use whom only when it immediately follows a preposition. "Whom did you vote for?" sounds very strange to me, but "For whom did you vote?" sounds fine. – Peter Shor Oct 11 '13 at 4:13
  • That rule only applies when the who is moved to the front of a clause by either Wh-question formation or Relative formation (in place of the more common that), and when it is moved from a position as object of a prepositional phrase, and when the preposition that it is the object of is optionally moved along with it by Pied-Piping. In that extremely optional case, requiring several unnecessary prior decisions (to use who instead of that, to prefer to keep preposition with object by moving them as a unit), that's the rule. Useful. – John Lawler Oct 11 '13 at 14:53

There are certain sectors of the English speaking realms who believe "whom" is in obsolescence, especially here in the US. I mean this is a country that calls a bathroom a bathroom even when there aren't any showers or bathtubs in that "bathroom". However, since I was not born in this country, I have no qualms using "whom".

Presuming, you too have no qualms using "whom", then you would wish to find out the circumstances where you could happily and appropriately apply this intriguing word. However, if, like certain people, you too wish this word were dead because you could barely handle it, you need not read on.

Think of the accusative pronouns him and her, vs the indicative pronouns he and she. OK, let's forget those confusing terms, the meanings which (honestly) I easily confuse. Let's invent the terms subject and target.

For example

He kissed her.

He being the subject pronoun and her being the target pronoun.

Whom, who, that are conjunctive pronouns. They join a subject to its story.

He who has never sinned cast the first stone.

Whenever you have to use the target pronouns him, her or them, is when you could use the conjunctive target pronoun whom. That is to say, to test whether you could use the conjunctive target pronoun whom or you if should stick to using the conjunctive subject pronoun who, simply attempt to substitute them with the target pronouns him, her or them.

We need to engage in some slight Yoda-speak, in order to test each situation.

This is the one who/whom they call the messiah.

  • Correct: This is the one. The call him the messiah.
  • Correct: This is the one, him the call the messiah.
  • Wrong: This is the one. They call he the messiah.
  • Wrong: This is the one. he they call the messiah.

This is the lady who/whom they caught shop-lifting.

  • Correct: This is the lady. They caught her shop-lifting.
  • Correct: This is the lady, her they caught shop-lifting.
  • Wrong: This is the lady. They caught she shop-lifting.
  • Wrong: This is the lady, she they caught shop-lifting.

This is the boy who/whom was caught stealing.

  • Wrong: This was the boy. Him was caught stealing.
  • Correct: This was the boy. He was caught stealing.

Decide if the following is agreeable with the usage of whom,

She was the manager with who/whom I was speaking.

by deciding which of the following is correct or wrong.

  • She was the manager. I was speaking with her.
  • She was the manager, with her was speaking.
  • She was the manager. I was speaking with she.
  • She was the manager, with she was speaking.


  • What on earth has the American meaning of bathroom to do with the rest of your rant? And I am one who can perfectly well handle it, but usually chooses not to because I know (not wish) that it is moribund. – Colin Fine Oct 13 '13 at 21:51
  • What has a blank cheque got to do with civil rights, except as MLK's illustration of the bankruptcy of certain segments of society. What have flaring rockets got to do with American independence but in a national anthem? – Blessed Geek Oct 13 '13 at 21:55
  • Yes, I suspected you meant that all too common, illogical, and utterly unjustified generalisation of some linguistic peeve or other to any other purported failing that the speaker wishes to castigate. At least in this case you are only generalising to irrelevant linguistic habits rather than moral ones. – Colin Fine Oct 13 '13 at 21:57
  • By the way, for the few months in Texas, I discovered they actually use the word "toilet" publicly to mean the venue rather than the seat, in contrast to the rest of the country. – Blessed Geek Oct 13 '13 at 22:07
  • That rule of thumb is confusing in this case because"My opponent was her" is perfectly fine in ordinary speech. – sumelic Jul 12 '16 at 5:13

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