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A coauthor and I are drafting a letter, and we're not yet sure whom we're going to be sending it to. So I sent a draft to my coauthor, which started

Dear [whomever]:

Now, that line in a letter is in the vocative case (or would be, if English really had cases). I know that who is used in the nominative case and whom in the accusative/dative, but what about the vocative? Should I have written

Dear [whoever]:

instead?



Obviously, my question is only about such dialects as use who and whom. But it could be just as well asked about he versus him: had we been authoring a letter with a known male recipient we didn't want to bother writing out the name of, we could have used

Dear [him]:

or

Dear [he]:

and the same question would apply.


Equally obviously, because this is a draft letter and the word in question won't appear in the final copy, it really doesn't matter which word we use. I wish to know anyway.

  • Good question. I would venture to say that since you are addressing him you should use whomever. – Jim Aug 27 '14 at 4:21
  • The norm in writing a letter to yourself is "Dear me" so "whomever" would probably be best. – guifa Aug 27 '14 at 4:41
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One relevant piece of data (although I wouldn't say it's conclusive) is the case of the singular second person pronoun thou/thee in archaic English, since this pronoun had distinct forms for the subjective and objective cases and was used in the vocative fairly often.

When it was used in the vocative, the nominative form thou seems to have been used, as demonstrated by this quote from Shakespeare:

Kent. Thou whoreson zed! thou unnecessary letter! (King Lear, 2.2.35)

Similarly, back when ye was still used as the subject case form of you, the sources I have found indicate it was also used for the vocative (The English Language; Its Grammar, History and Literature, by John Miller Dow Meiklejohn), although as ye passed out of use the situation seems to have become less consistent (An English Grammar, by Eduard Adolf Maetzner, mentions some grammarians who describe ye being used in the nominative and you in the vocative).

I think it's fairly unnatural to use a non-second-person pronoun in the vocative, so I don't have any strong intuitions on "dear he" vs. "dear him" and I'd guess that different people would have different preferences here. Guifa has left some comments suggesting "Dear me" sounds better than "Dear I"; I guess I'd agree, but I can't think of a situation where I'd use either and both of these options sound awkward to me (I think people normally use second-person pronouns to talk to themselves, as in "You've got to keep going!")

I'd recommend going with the nominative "Dear [whoever]."

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The placeholder (whoever, or whatever,) holds the place for a name/identity.

There's no case for the objective case here.

Not to be confused with the thought about "to whom it is being addressed," which is not relevant within the salutation here.

Say "Dear whoever;" "Dear he."

Claudia Coutu Radmore, Arctic Twilight:

It gets thrown around, Dear Sir, or Madame, Dear whoever.

Marjorie Razorblade,If you want … :

I wonder why every letter starts with “Dear Whoever?”

True, there are some instances of "Dear whomever" in writing, which I believe are a minor exception (85 to 1460 Search results may vary significantly.)

  • 2
    In letters to one's self (common activity for school children), would you recommend "Dear I"? – guifa Aug 27 '14 at 5:34
  • I read the whom in Dear whomever as being an elided form of: Dear (whomever is being addressed/written to) But as JohnLawler says (in paraphrase) "If you always use who you can never go truly wrong" – Jim Aug 27 '14 at 5:42
  • @Jim That distinction I have already mentioned in the answer: the salutation vs. the expression "whoever that is meant to be." – Kris Aug 27 '14 at 5:45
  • @Kris - yes, you mentioned and dismissed it. I'm suggesting it should not be dismissed because it is relevant with an explanation of why I think so. – Jim Aug 27 '14 at 5:47
  • Also note that your examples have whoever as the proper addressee. OP's example has [whomever] in brackets as a placeholder for the real name to be filled in later, which I think may change the answer. – Jim Aug 27 '14 at 5:50

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