I take it for granted we all know when to use the relative pronouns "who" and "whom". And we also know that since the early nineteenth century there has been a steady decline in the use of "whom" especially in speech, and people tend to use "who" most of the times. Let's assume, however, that someone is writing a formal letter and that he prefers to use "whom" whenever possible. He got stuck on these two sentences:

  • They chose the candidate who they thought would have the best initiative.
  • They chose the candidate whom they thought would have the best initiative.

If "whom" is the right relative, he will have no problem using "who" because it's also acceptable. But if the right relative is "who", then it would be a mistake to use whom. My question is: "In the above sentence, is the relative pronoun the object of "thought" or is it the subject of "would have".

PS I'm aware that some scholars advise against asking questions about "whom" because "who" is the relative pronoun most people use. But I understand it is not obsolete and is still used by a few people, in formal speech, in documents, etc, especially in the UK.

  • 1
    Here the they thought could be set off parenthetically. You're Brazilian right? Notice in Portuguese "... o candidato quem —eles achavam— teria..." There it's clear that the they thought is a completely different clause, and the verb would have agreed with the candidate. Since the candidate is the subject of the subordinate clause, it can't be whom. Sep 1, 2014 at 2:34
  • There are several posts right here on this site that are very closely related to this. Please see the previous posts. Good Luck.
    – Kris
    Sep 1, 2014 at 4:57

1 Answer 1


Let's try to rephrase your sentence.

  • They thought he would have the best initiative. (who)
  • They thought him would have the best initiative. (whom)

The second sentence makes no grammatical sense, so who would be the correct pronoun to use here.

  • When you rephrase a sentence, it is no longer the same sentence. It is a different sentence. We can easily rephrase the sentence "I have a red car" such that it makes no grammatical sense.
    – RegDwigнt
    Sep 1, 2014 at 20:21
  • By "rephrasing", I meant "take a clause and make it its own sentence, keeping the subject-object relationships of the pronouns". Gosh. Sep 1, 2014 at 20:51

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