While speaking with a co-worker today, I asked

"Who should I speak with?"

I quickly corrected myself saying

"With whom should I speak?"

I followed with

"What should I look at?"

To this, I considered a correction

"At what should I look?"

My questions are these:

Is there a different word for when "what" is used as an object?

If so, what is it and why does nobody use it?

If not, why is a distinction made between "who/whom" but not "what/what?"


There isn't a different word, per se. You could use "which" if the context indicates that there is a clear choice between a small number of things to look at. That's an entirely different word, though, and it changes the meaning slightly. I am guessing that that's not what you are looking for.

Neuter nouns and pronouns in Indo-European languages never distinguish nominative from accusative. For this reason, "what" has always been both the subject and object form. The non-neuter did, however, distinguish nominative from accusative. Although the accusative has since been lost, the dative took over its function, allowing the language to retain a subject/object opposition, at least in written in English. This opposition is more or less defunct in the spoken language. It is preceded by the loss of such a distinction first in nouns and adjectives, and more recently in the 2nd person pronoun. I imagine in time there will remain no such distinction in any pronoun. Indeed, in mainstream spoken dialects of English, the object form of pronouns is the default, and the subject form is only used when it is the direct and sole subject of the verb, much as in French.

Finally, note that the rule that a sentence should not end with a preposition is and always has been nonsense in English. Outside of formal writing, it's acceptable to end sentences and clauses with prepositions. I wouldn't spend any more time correcting yourself.

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No, there is not a different word.

Historical explanation: Who vs whom is one of the few relics in English of the Indo-European case system: others are he/him, I/me etc.

Most nouns and pronouns in most Indo-European languages distinguish between the subject (or nominative) and object (or accusative) case - except for neuter nouns and pronouns. I cannot think of a single example of a neuter accusative which is different from the nominative, in any Indo-European language.

So what, being neuter, though it may decline for other cases, hardly ever has a distinct object form.

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"Which" is the only other word which could be used. As mentioned it narrows the field of objects. As far as correcting yourself, good for you. More people should care about the language we speak and write.

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  • Caring about speech doesn't mean adhering to silly, pointless rules. What is improved by moving the preposition to the beginning? What ambiguity is removed? What clarity is added? None. It's irrelevant. For that reason, nobody talks that way anymore. – siride Dec 21 '15 at 20:45
  • You must live in Mississippi too. – A.Burton Dec 21 '15 at 20:47
  • I don't. I also fail to see what that has to do with any of this. – siride Dec 21 '15 at 21:08

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