I want to shorten this:

I sent emails to four others. One person responded.

Does the following sentence correctly use whom to achieve my goal?

I sent emails to four others, one of whom responded.

Can I use who instead of whom here?

  • 5
    I've given up trying to find an exact match for this particular who/whom query. I'd not bat an eyelid at either of your variants, though the second sounds rather formal. The famed whomophobe John Lawler would probably prefer your first version. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 14 '14 at 21:54
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    The second option uses exactly the same number of characters as the first, so I'm not sure if you've met your goal. In any case, both sound perfectly fine; the usage of whom is correct. – Théophile Dec 14 '14 at 22:26
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    Using who and whom – pazzo Dec 14 '14 at 23:22
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    Anyway. I'd like to encourage the OP here to elaborate on why they think whom might be incorrect here. Otherwise this is like asking if the use of red is correct in "I have a red car". And then there's still that shortening elephant in the room that needs addressing. – RegDwigнt Dec 15 '14 at 14:37
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    @AndrewLeach That answer is worse than useless here because it casts who are you speaking to as incorrect. However, it is mitigated for that example by the word technically. This gives the impression that there's a 'non-technical' viable answer. In that particular instance there is. In this one there isn't. That question is highly generalised. This one is highly specific. For a site for serious etymologists and linguists, that thread is not the place for this question. The answers on that thread are trying to give general rules. – Araucaria - Not here any more. Dec 15 '14 at 15:26

Whilst there are some posts to a question here that deal with some aspects of the usage of whom, none of them address the issue arising from the Original Poster's question here.

Many posters on ELU (this site) write about the death of whom in natural English. The death of whom, however has been over-exaggerated. Many of the writers foretelling the demise of whom advise using who in all instances or reformulating the sentences in which it occurs. However, these writers advising the avoidance of whom are meting out the same prescriptivist advice that right-minded descriptive grammarians abhor. This advice in fact can be positively damaging because in the modern grammar we often actually have to use whom instead of who to make our sentences grammatical.

The most important of these situations is when who/m is the object of a preposition in a relative clause construction. In such situations, who is often quite straightforwardly unusable. The following, using who, are all ungrammatical:

  • *There were twenty students present, several of who had been seriously injured.
  • *There was one woman about who I had heard nothing at all.
  • *Those people, not one of who has ever done anything to harm us, deserve better.

Contrastingly, the following are all fine:

  • There were twenty students present, several of whom had been seriously injured.
  • There was one woman about whom I had heard nothing at all.
  • Those people, not one of whom has ever done anything to harm us, deserve better.

Now, some writers might argue that these sentences should be reformulated so as to avoid the use of whom. However, this is complete piffle. To do so would be merely to pander to the personal predilections and prejudices of certain writers. It would have nothing to do with either grammar or good style. The only reason to suggest reformulating these sentences would only be so that the personal predilections of such writers held true.

Here is why these sentences shouldn't be reformulated. In each case the consideration is one of information packaging. Information packaging is merely about how we present new and given information to achieve the emphasis we want and to make our sentences easier to process.

In the first example, the formulation of the sentence requires contrastive stress on whom making the sentence more emphatic - this would be lost in a reformulation. This stress ties the second clause in more tightly to the first. In addition, the sentence construction builds up the readers anticipation as the sentences progresses, rendering the focus of the sentence - the injuries - more potent.

In the second example, if reformulated into two sentences, the first would become quite redundant:

  • There was a woman. I knew nothing at all about her.

The second sentence in the reformulated example, also lacks the focus of the original. The original puts the emphatic nothing at all in the focal position right at the end of the sentence. The reformulation puts about her at the end. Hardly the same effect.

In the third example, I cannot really see how a viable reformulation would work. Whichever way it was done, it would lose its emphasis:

  • Those people deserve better. Not one of them has done anything to harm us.

As can be seen the reformulation above puts the emphasis on harming us as opposed to deserve better.

The Original Poster's Question

The question of which of the two formulations is best in this instance is mute. It depends entirely on the context of the sentences and the objectives of the writer. However, in terms of the grammar I sent emails to four others, one of whom responded is clearly grammatically correct. I sent emails to four others, one of who responded is clearly ungrammatical.

  • 1
    Your second sentence could be formulated as: "There was one woman who I had heard nothing at all about." But in the others you probably do need whom. – Peter Shor Dec 15 '14 at 16:04
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    @PeterShor Yes, that's the point though. We like to put the focal information at the end of the sentence. about here has no oomph. It isn't the speaker's main concern. What they wish to emphasis is the nothing at all. Packaging the information so that the preposition is pied piped allows nothing at all to be in sentence final position :) It's all about what you want to emphasise! – Araucaria - Not here any more. Dec 15 '14 at 16:06
  • Google hit ratios aside, I don't find any of your example sentences more grating or grammatically incorrect than Peter’s suggested rewording—that is, I find them all informal and colloquial (and I’d avoid them equally in formal writing), but I also find them all perfectly grammatical. And despite the ratios, there are still quite a few hits for things like “several of who were”, including one from gov.uk, for example. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 16 '14 at 2:55
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    @JanusBahsJacquet I suppose that grammaticality judgements are in the ear of the beholder! :) I've definitely noticed a cline in acceptability with regards to the word modified by the preposition. So, for example, none of who is more widely used, where as one of who is virtually unseen ... :) – Araucaria - Not here any more. Dec 16 '14 at 15:58
  • "There were 30 students, and two of them were injured" avoids "two of who/whom..." – user8356 Dec 16 '19 at 16:05

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