I have a grammar which says that "whom" is used when it follow a preposition.

E.g: to whom am I speaking. to whom it may concern.

The grammar also says that "whom" is the object form of "who". E.g. He was a person whom everyone regarded as trustworthy. (Whom is the object in the sentence.) "However, this is now felt to be excessively formal by most speakers and who is commonly used instead." (VINCE, M. and SUNDERLAND, P.,2003).

I'm reading "Inferno" and there is this sentence: "Nobody had any idea who you were (...)"

Wouldn't that be whom? Is "who" in that sentence an object? You is the subject and who would be the object.

  • @Araucaria Now that you have rewritten the question, it's reopened. Yes, I could explain that, and I'll try and find some time to do it justice. Unless you get there first...
    – Andrew Leach
    Dec 11, 2014 at 17:53
  • @AndrewLeach Erm (sheepish grin), I think I misread the question ... Apologies. Dec 11, 2014 at 19:07
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    Would you please provide more of the excerpt? For that can affect the answer, e.g. ""Nobody had any idea who you were." vs ""Nobody had any idea who you were trying to kill." :)
    – F.E.
    Dec 13, 2014 at 1:47

2 Answers 2


Who in the clause who you were is not the object of you. Only transitive verbs can have an object; and the verb to be is not transitive. It is a copula verb that "links the subject to a subject-related predicative complement†". For this reason who is correct in the sentence: Nobody had any idea who you were.

†The definition of copula in the Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar, p102.

  • @Araucaria. Not sure I'm understanding your question. Strictly, it does need to be whom (objective case) after a preposition - although a quick Google throws up examples such as "To who do I have to communicate my arrival details?"
    – Shoe
    Dec 11, 2014 at 18:56
  • Sorry Shoe, I misread the question! Dec 11, 2014 at 19:05

Who1 are you? (who1 is to mean nominative.)

Whom4 have you met? (Whom4 is accusative.)

As nouns have identical forms in nominative and accusative and as English has only a few pronoun forms with a special accusative (he × him, she × her, who1 × whom4) whom4 was shortened to who (dropping the m). For learners it is a bit difficult to distinguish who1 and who4, but it can't be helped: you have to learn it.

In the sentence "Nobody had any idea who you were" you have who1 and not who4.

In the present tense the sentence would be: "Nobody knows/has any idea who1 you are." Who4/whom4 would not make any sense.

Ultimately the subordinate clause contains the question: "Who1 are you?"

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    Hi Roger. Sorry, but none of this can be correct. In "Who are you" the word "who" is not the subject, but the complement of the verb. Consider "Who is she" versus "*Who is her" - the latter being wrong outside of an echo question, and clearly showing the last word to be in accusative case. Secondly, even in the third example the "who" is still the complement, not the subject. It is clearly "you" that is the subject. Consider "Nobody had any idea who she was" versus "*Nobody had any idea who her was". Dec 13, 2014 at 0:34
  • @Araucaria - I changed my formulation. I deleted "subject case or nominative" and say only "nominative".
    – rogermue
    Dec 13, 2014 at 4:08
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    Hmm, but in the first example who is not the subject!. You is the subject! Even in Nobody knows who you are, "who" is the complement of the verb. "you" is the subject!! Dec 14, 2014 at 17:38
  • @Araucaria - I don't talk about what is the subject, I say who1 is a nominative and no accusative. A nominative can be subject or a complement after to be. The original question was whether who1 is correct or who4/whom4. The question was not what the subject is.
    – rogermue
    Dec 14, 2014 at 18:10
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    Yes, but German doesn't work the same way as English. Consider: "That's me". Dec 14, 2014 at 18:32

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