Which is right in this instance, subject or object pronoun? Further explanation as to why would be greatly appreciated.


  • Neither sounds too hot. 'They are the people we dislike' sounds more acceptable. But it has been said many times on ELU that with the possible exception of after a preposition, 'whom' has little place in modern English. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 31 '16 at 23:03
  • My rule (due to personal preference) would be to save "whom" for short clauses or fragments like "To whom?", "From whom?", "By whom"? In cases like this, I would use "those who" or "those that" or "the ones": "They are the ones we dislike." – developerwjk Sep 1 '16 at 21:03
  • As a follow up, you might want to see the source for my answer to you. Read pages 156-157 to see the method you can use to figure out which pronoun form to use in a subordinate (dependent) clause. images.pcmac.org/SiSFiles/Schools/AL/HooverCity/SpainParkHigh/… – Arch Denton Sep 3 '16 at 8:08

This answer is based in large parts on the comments to a deleted question, “I am who/whom he loves”: BillJ in particular was very helpful.

"Whom" would be correct here. As in most cases, "who" is also acceptable here.

Edwin Ashworth's commented that neither sounds very good, and suggested " 'They are the people we dislike.' This seems to be because in English, the pronouns who and whom cannot normally be used as fused relative pronouns (Cognitive English Grammar, by Günter Radden, René Dirven).

However, the sentence is grammatical if it is interpreted as the answer to a question "Whom do you dislike?" In other words, the pronoun is not being used as a fused relative pronoun, but as an "interrogative subordinator."

BillJ explains the grammar of the analogous sentence "“I am whom he loves":

Your example as written is fine and it doesn't really matter too much whether you use "who" or "whom", though the latter is correct in traditional grammar. The clause "who/whom he loves" is an interrogative subordinate clause, functioning as complement to "be". The meaning is "I am the answer to the question 'Who/whom does he love?'" We understand that the referent of "I" and the person he loves are the same.


In the OP's example, there is no antecedent for the pronoun who(m) That alerts us to the fact that who(m) must be an interrogative subordinator, not a relative pronoun, meaning that the clause it introduces must be an interrogative clause (sometimes called an indirect question), not a relative clause. Subordinate interrogatives can usually (but not always) be glossed with the formula "the answer to the question", so the OP's would be "I am the answer to the question 'Who/whom does he love?'"


Which is right in this instance, subject or object pronoun? Further explanation as to why would be greatly appreciated.

They are who/whom we dislike.

This is a Complex Sentence with one main (independent) clause and one subordinate (dependent) clause.

Main: They are

Dependent: who/whom we dislike

The question is which case form is used in the dependent clause? Do we use the nominative case [sometimes referred to as the subjective case] form of the pronoun "who" or the objective case form "whom"?

The answer is how the pronoun serves its purpose in the clause. The subject of the clause is "we" and the transitive verb definition of "dislike" takes an object, a direct object, which is "whom."

"7c. The direct object of the verb is in the objective case."--John E. Warriner. Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition. Third Course. Liberty Edition. Orlando, Florida: Harcourt, Brace, and Jovanovich. 1986. 217.

whom we dislike = we dislike whom


They are whom we dislike.

"...subject or object pronoun?" means the same as if your were asking "...nominative case or objective case pronoun?"

Dislike. v. trans.

: to not like (something or someone) : to feel dislike for (something or someone)


  • A main clause can always stand alone, but "They are" can hardly do that; it's just a 'fragment'. The main (or matrix) clause here is actually "They are who(m) we dislike. Embedded within the main clause is the subordinate interrogative clause "who(m) we like", which functions as complement to "be". Trad grammar would insist on the object being accusative "whom", but In modern English, nominative "who" is equally correct. – BillJ Sep 3 '16 at 6:57

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