1

Take the sentence:

I speak all over to whoever will listen.

...at first blush, I thought, "Ah — whoever should be whomever."

However, I then noted that in the phrase "whoever will listen", whoever is correct.

I think the central issue is that if the sentence had ended without the "...will listen" then it would be correctly stated, "I speak all over to whomever." As it is, it seems like the last part of the sentence ("whoever will listen") ends up being the object of the 'to' rather than the single word: 'whoever'.

Is this sentence grammatically correct, and why?

5

According to The McGraw-Hill Handbook of English Grammar and Usage, "whoever" is correct.

Although we see "to whoever", it is correct because "whoever" is not the object of the preposition "to". The object of the preposition is the entire noun clause "whoever will listen". And because "whoever", as you point out, is the subject of "will listen", it is written in the subjective case.

The McGraw-Hill Handbook gives the following example:

We will sell it to whoever bids the highest.

We will sell it to whomever bids the highest.

The Handbook declares the first sentence to be correct.

  • The second one is incorrect. The best advice is never to use whom or whomever unless you are completely confident you know why and how it is to be used, and can cite the rules. Since almost nobody meets this qualification, it's best to avoid it altogether; it's very rare anyway, and more than half of the uses one encounters are incorrect, so correct usage carries no benefit. – John Lawler Jun 3 '14 at 2:25
  • 2
    @JohnLawler I'm sorry, but I cannot agree that "correct usage carries no benefit". I would say that the best advice is to learn the rule and apply it. That is, after all, the purpose of websites such as this one. – user77991 Jun 3 '14 at 2:35
  • Nonsense. That is certainly not the purpose of this website. And "learning the rule", as you call it, requires a very sophisticated knowledge of syntax, since the only context where whom is required in English is when it's the object of a pied-piped preposition in a relative clause, which is an optional construction, since it's easier and more common to strand the preposition. The rest of the time the rule allows either who or whom, unless whom is ungrammatical, in which case only who is allowed. Whom is, for all intents and purposes, dead. Better to learn the rule for thou. – John Lawler Jun 3 '14 at 2:59
  • @JohnLawler: so after a long and valiant struggle of 700 years, whom has now finally succumbed. /me proposes a moment of silence in remembrance. – oerkelens Jun 3 '14 at 9:25

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