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I received a letter of confirmation for funding from an English native speaker. She started the letter with:

To whoever it may concern,

I am not a native speaker, but that sounds quite odd to me and I would change that to To whom it may concern. Can anyone confirm whether her starting phrase is at least grammatically okay or is it just wrong?

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    To the annoyance of oldsters like me, whom (and relatives) is on the way out. Nowadays who is used for objects (direct and of prepositions), and is considered correct.
    – GEdgar
    Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 23:27
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    @GEdgar No, no, no. Who is on the way out the door.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 23:31
  • @GEdgar: You put this far better than all the people claiming authority over the majority of English speakers. Not that I intend to stop using whom in the near future. Commented Jan 25, 2014 at 7:32
  • Will using whom make you sound distinguished ... or peculiar?
    – GEdgar
    Commented Jan 25, 2014 at 15:44

4 Answers 4

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Whom and whomever are the pronouns used as direct objects (of the preposition).

Who and whoever are predicate nominatives.

When it comes after to, it will always be a form of whom.

Whoever is technically a subject word (like he or I), but whom would be the object (like him or me).

Therefore, after the word to you would need to use the object word. Remember, you would never write, To he.

To whom it may concern is the correct statement.

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  • Yes, this is one answer. But it's not the only answer, as it appears to be claiming to be. Commented Jan 25, 2014 at 7:28
  • "When it comes after to, it will always be a form of whom." This isn't correct. In this case, "whomever" happens to be grammatical because it's the object of the relative clause "whomever it may concern." But in another context, such as "to whoever was there," the pronoun might be the subject of the relative clause, and in that case it's not clear.
    – herisson
    Commented Aug 27, 2016 at 0:33
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"To whoever it may concern,"

Actually, I like that expression "To whoever it may concern".

It sounds natural to my ear, and it seems to be the speaker's attempt to use a fused relative in the salutation in a not-too-formal of a tone.

There might even be a reasonable argument that the fused relative is being used in a free choice construction that would be equivalent in meaning to: To anyone whom it may concern. Then the salutation might be considered to be an ellipted form of something like "This letter is to whoever it may concern".

Though, I'd think that the letter was meant to be read by a specific person, and so, the free choice argument here might be considered to be kinda moot, maybe.

But the argument for the use of a fused relative seems to be strong, where it would have the meaning: "This letter is to the person whom it may concern". (Note the difference between the meaning of "the person who(m)" and the free choice meaning of "anyone who(m)".)

Often, for a fused relative, there are conflicting case requirements imposed by the matrix and the relative, but here, there is no conflict. (The two case requirements: the matrix preposition "to" wants the accusative "whom", while the relative clause also wants the accusative "whom".)

So, if would seem that this fused relative should be using "whomever", not "whoever". And so, the salutation perhaps ought to be:

  • "To whomever it may concern,"

But if the writer had truly intended to use the free choice meaning of To anyone whom it may concern, then, in a free choice construction, more forms might be possible:

  • "To whoever/whomever/who/whom it may concern,"

and the version originally used by the letter writer is one of those,

  • "To whoever it may concern,"

Just something to think about, if one is interested in the grammaticality of that salutation.

(Though, the verb "concern" might not actually be considered to be a member of the small set of allowable verbs, such as "choose, like, please, want, wish", which would be interpreted as if having a causal complement when used in a free choice construction -- and so, perhaps this salutation can't involve a free choice construction. There's related info in the 2002 reference grammar CGEL, pages 1074-6.)

Also, the decision to use that form of salutation:

  • "To whoever it may concern,"

could have been arrived at as a preference over the various other possibilities:

  • 1.) "To whom it may concern,"
  • 2.) "To who it may concern,"
  • 3.) "To whomever it may concern,"
  • 4.) "To whoever it may concern,"

Versions #1 and 3 may have been thought to be too formal or stiff sounding (to the speaker/writer). And version #2 might have been considered to be too "non-standard" looking, or else the writer might have been afraid that the reader might consider that form to be too non-standard and unacceptable for a salutation. And so, that leaves version #4.

(ASIDE: Although, it is true that the salutation "To whom it may concern" is a grammatical and traditional way of doing it. But that version might seem to sound a bit formal for some situations or purposes, for some speakers or institutions.)

Anyway, if I had received a salutation like that in a letter, I probably wouldn't have noticed it.

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ASIDE: Seeing this in the OP's post:

I received a letter of confirmation for funding from an English native speaker.

  • To whoever it may concern,

Well, I'd think they would have the software that would have automatically inserted your name appropriately in the salutation, especially since the letter is confirming funding.

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Yes it's wrong. She should have used whomever as the dative form of whoever. (Whomsoever also exists from whosoever.)

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I believe that John Lawler argues that the dropping of 'whom' (and, by analogy, 'whomever') has progressed so far nowadays that it's prescriptivist to demand the forms once considered necessary here.

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  • I've heard the argument, but I think admitting defeat in the matter is a bad idea. Perhaps in 50 years saying "to whom it may concern" will be considered archaic and obsolete, but I, for one, will not concede that it is inevitable. Commented Jan 25, 2014 at 0:12
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    The snag is there's no consistency in these areas. I bet you say things like 'It's us / me' and 'Who do you think I saw yesterday?' Commented Jan 25, 2014 at 7:25

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