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I know that who is used when asking about a subject (Who is at the door?) and whom is used when asking about an object (By whom was the door opened?). How do you determine which one to use when the object becomes the subject of another clause?

For example, take the sentence:

I gave the prize to ____ deserved it most.

Would it be whomever because it's the object of "gave," or would it be whoever because it's the subject of "deserved"? Is their a hard-and-fast rule to rely on in situations like this?

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    In those cases, never use whom unless you've left it as the object of a preposition that comes right before (e.g, by whom, for whom, with whom). That situation requires whom; no other situation requires it, and that situation can be avoided by stranding the preposition (Who was the door opened by?). Executive Summary: Don't use whom. Oct 15, 2014 at 21:54
  • @JohnLawler You caveat is well made! :) Oct 16, 2014 at 14:44

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"Whoever" would be correct. The blank in your sentence is not the object of "gave". The entire clause "___ deserved it most" is the object of "gave", which in turn means you'll use "whoever", which is the subject of "deserved".

The rule here is exactly like what you said: who = subject, whom = object. The trick in this case is understanding the clauses in this sentence.

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  • No, that's no longer the rule. Read Professor Lawler's comment (and see many other posts here on who / whom). Oct 15, 2014 at 23:01
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    Yes, that is the rule. Still. I.e, the rule is that whoever is correct as the subject of deserved it most, and whomever is not correct. You do hafta use the -other construct to make it nonspecific indefinite, but nothing makes the subject of a tensed verb accusative. Oct 16, 2014 at 16:34
  • @EdwinAshworth: I think most people agree that this is still the rule in formal English, which is what most people asking this question are after. Jun 4, 2018 at 0:25
  • The answerer states 'the rule' re 'who' and 'whom', not 'whoever' and 'whomever'. 'The rule here is exactly like what you said: who = subject, whom = object.' But I'd consider 'Whom were you hit by?' to be definitely on the way out nowadays. Jun 4, 2018 at 7:49

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