I'm looking for a traditional grammar explanation in regards to the sentence: 'I don't remember whom is whom.' Also I'll preface that I'm native speaker for whatever that's worth...

Now I understand that the most natural way to say this is, 'I do not remember who is who'. From that, because it's the accusative case, one should normally say:

'I do not remember him' -> 'I do not remember whom'

However, since 'is' is a copula or linking verb, the following explanation by Grammar Girl applies. My understanding is that it forces the same grammatical cases, so 'whom is whom' and thus:

'I do not remember whom is whom.'

In another 'who vs whom' question, one person suggests 'Who is who' is correct because it is a set phrase. Though I suppose I can accept that set phrases exist as a thing to torment learners (set phrase as it more means 'which person is which' or other things apparently), at the very least the why it isn't 'who is whom' can be explained by the Grammar Girl link earlier.

Also a side question: ignoring who vs whom, would it be more correct to say, 'I do not remember who being who', so leaving the verb in the infinitive form. As an example, 'I remeber him being another person.' Or perhaps the infinitive 'to be' is the most correct? At this point I don't trust my English enough to tell, and I might probably just analyzing this all wrong anyway...

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    Though ''I do not remember whom he hit" (from "Whom did he hit?") might still have one or two people advocating its correctness, ''I do not remember whom he is" (from "Whom is he?") has never been acceptable. Jan 24, 2017 at 21:13
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    The thing is, while you would say "I do not remember him," you would not say *"I do not remember (that) him is...". You would say "I do not remember (that) he is...", so "whom" is not considered correct here. "Remember [direct object noun phrase]" and "Remember (that) [subordinate clause]" are two different structures.
    – herisson
    Jan 24, 2017 at 22:01
  • Surely who is whom would be the hyper-correct form? If we break the sentence apart to apply the he/him test, you would get I do not remember if he was the man I saw and I do not remember if the man I saw was him. So I do not remember if he was him and thus I do not remember who was/is whom.
    – 1006a
    Jan 24, 2017 at 22:19
  • @1006a: The he-him test doesn't work, and is in fact usually misleading, after forms of "to be", due to differences between prescribed and usual usage of pronoun case in this position. This may be what you're intending to say, since you mention the concept of "hyper-correct" forms; if so, it was a bit too subtle for me. I would characterize "I do not remember who was/is whom" and "I do not remember whom was/is whom" as equally "hyper-correct" and equally wrong.
    – herisson
    Jan 24, 2017 at 22:28
  • @sumelic Yes, by hyper-correct I meant foolishly trying to shoehorn unnatural language into "correctness" based on random prescriptive rules. I would use who is who, and call that "correct" because it's what people actually say. Sorry if I was too oblique.
    – 1006a
    Jan 24, 2017 at 22:36

1 Answer 1


Given that this is correct:

I just barely remembered that 『he was still “she”』 back then.

It follows directly that you must use subject case for both subject and predicate:

I don’t remember 『who is who』.

The thing you’re remembering — 『the syntactic constituent』 — is the entire clause, and pronouns within that clause always take the case corresponding to the job they’re doing in that clause.

It is only when the thing you are remembering — the syntactic constituent — is a lone pronoun does that pronoun adopt the case of its role as the direct object of remember.

I remember 『them』 fondly.

  • Makes sense. I had a feeling it because it was an clause, but wasn't to confident about how to break the sentence down or what that exactly meant for the sentence when approaching it from this perspective.
    – Flans
    Jan 24, 2017 at 23:21
  • Not entirely accurate. I'll try to get an answer up soon. May 10, 2017 at 2:47

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