Consider the following two sentences:

(A) The man or woman has not been born yet whom I would trust to write error-free English.

(B) The man or woman has not been born yet who would trust me to write error-free English.

In sentence (A), a nonexistent person is the subject of "has" and the object of "trust" in the relative clause, which begins with "whom". In sentence (B), our ghost is the subject of both the initial clause and the relative clause, which begins with "who". In (A), I am the subject of trust, whereas I am the object of it in (B)—hence the use of "me".

Since "trust" has the force to change "I" to "me" in (B), I believe it should also have the force to change "who" to "whom" in (A). Am I right or wrong, and why? Should a contact clause be used in (B) instead, and if so, why?

EDIT: Having accepted the correct answer, I was right about "whom" being used in (A), but "who" could also be used in (A), in everyday speech and writing (informal contexts). The answer to my second question about the contact clause is probably no for (B) but yes for (A)! With a contact clause sentence (A) would read: "The man or woman has not been born yet I would trust to write error-free English." The relative pronoun can be removed in (A) because it's not the subject.

As a side note, I consider both relative clauses (A) and (B) to be defining relative clauses, because even though the relative clause deals with a non-existent subject, the relative clause still restricts the meaning of the first clause, thusly defining it via negativity (as similarly happens in a sentence like, "The Stack Exchange website has not been created yet within which every answer is not a million times better than any answer given to any question on Yahoo Answers.").

  • Before you edit my question or comment about it: I obey my own rule about where periods go inside of quotation marks, because, dammit Jim, I am a programmer, not the Chicago Manual of Style. When I asked your mother, "What happened in Vegas?" she replied, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas."—even punctuation marks! – CommaToast Jul 23 '15 at 19:09
  • 1
    Both of your sentences are correct, although they have two very different meanings. It is not trust that is changing I to me in example B so much as it is the meaning of the sentence that is changing the pronoun. I realize there are grammatical reasons that someone more articulate than I can address, but the answer to your question is "whom." – Jake Regier Jul 23 '15 at 19:11
  • It seems that you are probably using BrE style of punctuation, instead of AmE style, for your question post. I too tend to prefer to use BrE style of punctuation when writing something technical (such as grammar related posts)--though, I still use AmE style for my fiction writing and formal writing (for AmE audiences). – F.E. Jul 23 '15 at 20:35
  • 1
    Since "trust" has the force to change "I" to "me" in (B), I believe it should also have the force to change "who" to "whom" in (A). <== Actually, for example #A, the relative pronoun "who/whom" is in pre-nuclear position; and usually, when the relative pronoun is in that position, it is usually "who" that would be preferred. Using "whom" there is quite marked usage, and it can seem to be awkward to your readers and hearers. There are posts on ELL and EL&U that discusses this. – F.E. Jul 23 '15 at 20:42
  • 1
    @F.E. “There are posts […] that discusses this” — surely that's not grammatical even to you and your relaxed attitudes towards measure phrases and singular verbs?!? – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 23 '15 at 21:06

Strictly speaking, it should be whom, because, as you note, the pronoun is the object of trust.

In fact, however, the use of whom is essentially optional in less-formal registers of modern English, except when the pronoun is the object of a preposition and directly follows the preposition.

Excerpts from the usage note for who from the American Heritage Dictionary:

According to the traditional rule, who is a nominative pronoun (that is, it acts as the subject of a clause) and whom is an objective pronoun (that is, it acts as a grammatical object).


Despite the traditional grammatical distinctions outlined above, in practice whom is uncommon in speech and everyday writing because it has a formal tone. In informal contexts, who often replaces whom, as in Who does the actor support? or I despise the governor who the actor supports.


Whom survives as the standard form when it is the grammatical object of a preposition that immediately precedes it, as in the governor for whom (not for who) the actor campaigned.

| improve this answer | |
  • So is 'the use of whom ... essentially optional in modern English, except when the pronoun is the object of a preposition and directly follows the preposition', or should this be considered true only 'in speech and everyday writing'? – Edwin Ashworth Jul 23 '15 at 20:56
  • @EdwinAshworth I suppose it is a matter of opinion. I suppose that the use of who as an object would in fact be one marker of less-formal writing. I will rephrase. – phoog Jul 23 '15 at 21:07
  • I'm almost with John Lawler: 'One need never use whom, and if one is even a little bit dubious about a situation, one should certainly not use whom there. That's the rule. The simple rule. If you insist on zombie rules, be aware you're late to the game, and there are lots more zombie rules out there already. Whom has kicked the bucket, shuffled off this mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisible. This is an ex-pronoun. Let it lie in peace.' I still use it after prepositions and in quotations. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 23 '15 at 21:19
  • @EdwinAshworth one need never do anything, though it might be wise to consider the effect on one's readers. Certainly the New York Times uses whom despite the fact that its reporters and editors continually misuse it (see afterdeadline.blogs.nytimes.com, and particularly search for whom). – phoog Jul 23 '15 at 21:46

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.