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The accepted (and highly upvoted) answer to the question in the question What’s the rule for using “who” and “whom” correctly? states that the easiest way to find out whether to use who or whom is to try with he/him and see which fits.

But that doesn’t seem to fit very well in this case:

  1. Who will it be?

  2. Whom will it be?

If I replace with he/him there, it becomes:

  1. Will it be he?

  2. Will it be him?

– and I don’t know which of these is right, either. Is it really true that you can always associate who with he and whom with him? Or does that not always work? And which out of 3 and 4 is correct?

  • 2
    These are just "Who is it?" and "Is it he/him?" put into future tense. So the first one is clearly "who". For the second one, it is usually "him" in informal English, but some pedants will tell you that it should be "he". The pedants who originally came up with this rule were applying Latin grammar to English. – Peter Shor Jun 8 '15 at 10:54
  • @PeterShor: Or they are "French": It is I, Leclerc. – oerkelens Jun 9 '15 at 8:36
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    @Ananymous I’ve edited your question quite fundamentally to make it clear why your question is not the same as the one it’s been marked as a duplicate of. If you don’t think my edit reflects the question you wanted to ask, you can undo it (just ‘roll back’ the edit). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 9 '15 at 13:05
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Check these out: 'Who' vs 'whom': 1, 'Who' vs 'whom': 2

It is usually "Who will it be?" for the reasons given in the second article.

For your second question, I think "Will it be him?" is better. These definitions may be helpful:

he

pronoun used to refer to a man, boy, or male animal previously mentioned or easily identified.

"Everyone liked my father—he was the perfect gentleman"

him

pronoun used as the object of a verb or preposition to refer to a male person or animal previously mentioned or easily identified.

"His wife survived him"

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  • 2
    But "be" is intransitive (unlike "survive", which is transitive). – GEdgar Jun 8 '15 at 13:40
2

Only

Who will it be?

is correct. The issue arises from a difference between ordinary English grammar and prescribed English grammar concerning the case of complements of the verb "to be".

The verb "to be" is intransitive: it does not take a direct object. Instead, it can take a noun phrase as a "complement".

  • the "traditional grammar" rule is that the complement should be in the nominative if the subject of the verb phrase is in the nominative. In other words, traditional grammar advice prescribes "Will it be he?" and forbids "Will it be him?" See this Grammarphobia post: How should you answer the phone? Note that the traditional rule does not call for the complement to be in the nominative in all circumstances. The complement has to be accusative in sentences such as "I knew it to be him" where the subject of "to be" is an accusative pronoun like "it". It's somewhat unclear what case traditionalists would prescribe for the complement of "being" or "to be" when there is no obvious subject of the verb, or when the subject is in the genitive case.

  • native English speakers tend to put the complement in the accusative in all circumstances. That's why sentences like "Will it be him?" are commonly produced and judged as grammatical by native speakers.

In "Who will it be", "who" is the complement of "(will) be", not the subject. (You can tell because "it" is occupying the subject slot right after the auxiliary verb, and the sentence can't have two subjects.) So according to traditional grammar rules, only "who" is correct.

The rule calling for "whom" to be used in accusative contexts is not part of native English speakers' grammar, so the fact that we naturally use accusative pronouns for complements of "to be" is irrelevant. Modern native speakers naturally use "who" in both nominative and accusative contexts. This results in "Who will it be?" existing alongside "Will it be him?"

"Whom will it be?" is a hypercorrection: it isn't justified either by the grammatical rules that come naturally to English speakers, or by the set of rules that are traditionally prescribed. To get it, you have to mix-and-match, resulting in a sentence that sounds bad and that nearly all educated speakers would agree is ungrammatical.

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  • Nice answer. I fixed one typo. I'd like to add that "whom" is in danger of extinction especially when it is used as the first word of a sentence and "who" is replacing "whom" in many cases while the opposite is happening when him/her/them, etc. are used as a complement of the verb be. – user140086 Dec 19 '16 at 4:19
  • @Rathony: thanks. Right, I find it interesting that in a way, there are two differences between native speakers' grammar and traditional grammar that cause "who" to end up still being used as the complement of "to be" no matter which set of rules you use. – herisson Dec 19 '16 at 4:21
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1 Someone is knocking on the door. Inside the room someone asks: Who will it be? - As "who" is nominative "who" is the only correct form. "Whom" (accusative) is wrong.

2 Will it be he? - 3 Will it be him?

In such a sentence the question subject or object is irrelevant, as in spoken language the accusative forms (me, him, them) are used as a kind of emphatic form - just as French uses moi instead of je in certain positions. I think both 2 and 3 are possible.

Similar example: Who will do it? You? -- Me? No, I won't do it.

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    Hold on a sec (scratched head), why is the accusative wrong? Are you saying it's because "who" is the subject of the verb? – Araucaria - Not here any more. Jun 8 '15 at 12:28
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For your first question, 'who will it be?' will be correct as who is used when it is the subject of a verb.

Reference: http://www.grammar-monster.com/lessons/who_whom.htm

For your second question:

The forms he, she and they are used when a pronoun is the subject of a sentence. The forms him, her and them are used when a pronoun is the object of a sentence. http://www.englishgrammar.org/words-heshe-himher-hishers/

In your second question, him/he is the object of your sentence. He cannot be used as it can only be used as the subject. Therefore, Him is the correct one.

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  • Precisely what I wanted to say. Good job! – Aishwarya A R Jun 8 '15 at 2:24
  • In "Will it be he/him?" there is no object. A noun after to be is a predicative complement in nominative case. Who is he? -- He is the president. (He is who? Not: He is whom?) – rogermue Jun 8 '15 at 4:15
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    Hold on a minute! The grammatical subject of that question is it, not who(m)! The word who(m) is the complement of the verb BE :( – Araucaria - Not here any more. Jun 8 '15 at 12:29
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Whom is used as the object and Who subject. However, it is not so simple as our common speech does not always allow to be so straight !

This is why Janus aked his question...

"Who will it be ?" is the perfect form because here who is active subject AND because with such verb we use I/he/we/they like for : It won't be I and not for a native It won't be me...

Then, we have a serious problem for the answer. "Who will it be ?" needs a reply like this one : I/he/we/they. But we never use such words. We reply Me/him/us/them.

So I think "Whom will it be ?" (I never heard) finds an explanation in our answer. But it's not the perfect form as it won't work with "To whom will it be ?" So far, I believe whom works with to/with/for etc. If not, I think you should not use "whom". "Whom are you going to marry ?" means with whom...

Last point, it's "Whom you will choose ?" but we accept who instead of whom here because the one who makes the choice is "you" the active subject.

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