The basic rule I follow is that the case of the relativizer is determined by the role played within the relative clause by the entity it represents.

Give it to [OBJ whomever you admire __ most]. (You admire him most.)
Give it to [SUBJ whoever __ should have it]. (He should have it.)
Give it to [SUBJ whoever you think __ should have it]. (You think he should have it.)

But what about a 'raised' subject?

Give it to [?? ???ever you want __ to have it].

Does the raised form You want him to have it govern, or does the underlying role He HAVE it?

Does the language's growing indifference to persnickety punctilio direct me to whoever as the 'unmarked' or 'more natural' form?

Or is Great Mother English sending me the message that I'm pushing the boundaries of the language and ought to rewrite?

  • Yay! This is the kind of question I want to see more of here! Because I have no idea how to answer it, and so I'm going to learn a lot. Sadly, we only have a handful of true linguists on this site dedicated to "linguists, etymologists, and enthusiasts", so I'm afraid your audience will be small :( Calling Dr. Lawler!
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 18:50
  • 2
    I too hope @JohnLawler responds; I imagine he will have something to say about cyclic/postcyclic transformations which will at least clarify my very feeble grasp of that gnarly topic. Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 18:53
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    'Raising' is a matter of semantics. With to-infinitivals, the intervening noun or NP in a complex catenative construction like this always belongs syntactically in the matrix; it functions as matrix object, so objective case "whomever" must be the answer. The intervening noun is only 'raised' inasmuch as the verb it relates to syntactically is higher in the constituent structure than the one it relates to semantically.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 19:29
  • Raising is both syntax and semantics, like most things in grammar. As to which case to assign, that's a matter between the speaker and their confessor, because it depends on what theoretical church they attend. They might go to Case Grammar of Arc Pair Grammar, for instance. Me, I contribute to the church that says "Don't use whom at all", so there is really no case to assign. Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 20:27
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    I'm with @BillJ, even though I can't push the lizard in Alice in Wonderland out of my head.
    – JEL
    Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 20:55

1 Answer 1


OK, I'll bite. In fact, I think the most reasonable position -- and the one adopted in Relational and Arc Pair grammars -- is that a raised object is in fact an object -- a direct object, in fact. So it can passivize, for instance, (with some verbs, at least):

  • The detective believes that he has it. (no infinitive, no Raising)
  • The detective believes him to have it. (B-Raising to object)
  • He is believed to have it (by the detective). (B-Raising plus Passive of Raised object)

In relational grammars, B-Raising promotes a 1 in a lower clause to a 2 in a higher clause; and Passive promotes a 2 to a 1 in the same clause. Both of these occur on the same (higher) cycle.

This isn't a matter of "assigning case", however; the labial nansal infinx on whomever doesn't actually get "assigned" until some milliseconds before the speaker's lips and velic flap coordinate
to produce the /m/.

1's, 2's, and 3's in relational grammars are the basis of the system, and not just a tag that has to be assigned by the grammar. Rather, they refer to the categories Subject, Direct Object, and Indirect Object, respectively. These are the givens in RG, not derived or assigned categories. On the other hand, a lot of the givens in generative grammars aren't needed in RG; so it comes in handy.

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