40

I often hear people say something like

For whose benefit is that?

Should it not be

For whomse benefit is that

Who -> Whom
Whose -> Whomse

I know "whomse" is not a real word. My question is: why doesn't it exist?

88

The easiest way to think about this is to compare to he him his:

Who gets the benefit? He gets the benefit.

To whom does the benefit accrue? The benefit accrues to him.

For whose benefit is that? That is for his benefit.

For whomse benefit is that? That is for hims benefit.

Obviously that last is unnecessary/wrong—in place of hims (or him's) we have his, and in place of whomse (or whom's) we have whose. (Also, sound aside, whose is no more related to who's than his is to he's.)

That's the quick-and-dirty, functional answer; it's also accurate that whose and whom evolved alongside each other, subject to different influences than what might make sense from our modern English point of view. From the OED Online:

whose, pron. Etymology: Middle English hwās, later hwǭs, whǭs, altered form of hwas, hwes, Old English hwæs (< **χwasa*) genitive of hwá and hwæt, through the influence of hwā, hwǭ who pron., hwām, hwǭm whom pron. (Later Middle English whas probably represents an unstressed variant.)

—"whose, pron." OED Online. Oxford University Press, June 2016. Web. 20 August 2016.

  • 3
    This is a great explanation in my opinion, thank you – Albert Renshaw Aug 21 '16 at 3:39
  • 1
    It does raise other questions though... Where does the "e" in "whose" come from? If it actually means "who's", and and the word "his" doesn't have an "e", then it doen't really seem necessary. – Mr Lister Aug 22 '16 at 7:32
  • 20
    Next question: Why is Hims not a word? – Pureferret Aug 22 '16 at 14:16
  • 1
    Huh. After reading this, I think I may have been using "who's" when I should have been using 'whose'. – DCShannon Aug 23 '16 at 1:17
  • 1
    @greenasjade excellent. Next, exploring you->youm. – Pureferret Aug 23 '16 at 4:14
50

There aren't two different nominative/objective pairs

Who -> Whom
Whose -> *Whomse, *Whom's, etc.

Instead, there's three choices

  • Who - Nominative
  • Whom - Objective
  • Whose - Possessive

Who can't be both objective and possessive.

  • 5
    Times like these I wish I could accept two answers. Thanks for the explanation; it does feel if I say something like "For who(m)se dog did you buy the collar" is is both objective and possessive, but that's probably just an error in the way my brain "feels" about the sentence haha. – Albert Renshaw Aug 21 '16 at 3:39
  • 1
    @AlbertRenshaw: Examples of nominative and objective: I like her. She ignores me. Who likes whom?   Examples of possessive: My dog ate my homework. Our team visited their stadium. Tomorrow, their team will visit our stadium.   See how the possessive is the same for the subject and the object.  (Indirect object and object of preposition are no different: He gave her a ring. His father proposed to his mother.) – Scott Aug 21 '16 at 8:21
  • 11
    @AlbertRenshaw: No, your brain is correct: in for whose dog, the noun group whose dog is together the object of the preposition; but internally, inside the noun group, whose is a possessive noun modifying dog. So there are both an object and a possessive/genitive there, though not at the same level. But the object is only indicated at the group level, and the group as a whole cannot show object status—except when the entire group is a single word whom. – Cerberus Aug 21 '16 at 13:05
  • +1. This, unlike the accepted answer, is an explanation. – Khuldraeseth na'Barya May 10 '17 at 3:05
17

Whose is (originally and now) the genitive of who. From Etymonline:

whose: genitive of who; from Old English hwæs, genitive of hwa (see who).

In all Indo-European languages that I know, a genitive modifies a noun but does not agree with this noun, not even in languages with elaborate paradigms. In other words, the form of the genitive doesn't change when the form of the noun it belongs to changes. An example from Latin:

Magna Minerva est dea. "The great Minerva is a goddess."

Amicus Vulcanus est deus. "Friend Vulcanus is a god."

Vulcanus est amicus Minervae. "Vulcanus is Minerva's friend."

Video amicum Minervae. "I see Minerva's friend."

As you see, the form of the genitive doesn't change, while the noun that the genitive modifies (amicus/amicum) changes form to indicate that it is subject or object, respectively. Only adjectives can change their form if they belong to a noun, not genitives. It is the same in English.

  • Your argument is invalid: cf Est amicus meus vs Video amicum meum. – Georgy Ivanov Aug 23 '16 at 6:28
  • 2
    Also, *whomse does exist in, say, Russian "Чья это книга" vs "Чью книгу ты читаешь" (Whose book is this vs *Whomse book are you reading) – Georgy Ivanov Aug 23 '16 at 6:35
  • 1
    meum, tuum, suum, nostrum, vostrum should perhaps be considered adjectives that have taken the place of genitive pronouns, rather than as pronouns themselves. – Anton Sherwood Aug 23 '16 at 8:48
  • 1
    @GeorgyIvanov: Possession can be indicated in other ways than through a genitive. As Anton says, meus etc. are adjectives, not genitives. The genitive of tu is rarely used, but it is tui, and it behaves like any other genitive. Your Russian example is very interesting! I don't know any Russian, but are those true genitives? Or could they be classified as something, such as possessive adjectives or suffixed words? Still, that doesn't mean they wouldn't be relevant. – Cerberus Aug 23 '16 at 14:12
  • 1
    @GeorgyIvanov: Ah, I see. I assumed, but I suppose I should have added that to my answer. Done. – Cerberus Aug 24 '16 at 1:55

protected by Kit Z. Fox Aug 22 '16 at 0:12

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

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