Consider the sentence "Please gather information on who can serve as a proctor."

The he/him, she/her test gives conflicting answers here: One would say "Please gather information on her", but "He can serve as a proctor," and the entire sentence can't be accurately replaced with such a pronoun.

Which rule should be used? I know 'who' is acceptable regardless in colloquial English, but would it be valid to use 'whom' as well in this scenario?

  • See english.stackexchange.com/questions/294223/… -- this is a duplicate.
    – Xanne
    Commented Apr 18, 2017 at 2:22
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    @Xanne - If so, it's a poor second. There are 6 answers, of which 4 have 0 points and one has -1. There is no accepted answer, and the top-scoring answer (from a ghost) is hardly helpful, or even coherent. This question is about an embedded question complement who can serve as a proctor that's the object of the preposition on. It's a noun clause, after all, so it can be the object of a preposition. As to the pronoun, who is the subject of the complement clause, so it's not whom. The rule is "Don't use whom". It's never necessary. Commented Apr 18, 2017 at 2:39
  • @John Lawler I've seen you say that before in an answer--I tried to find the who/whom discussion I've read before but I guess I got the wrong one.
    – Xanne
    Commented Apr 18, 2017 at 2:43
  • I've discussed it several places; it keeps coming up. You can search my posts for it: english.stackexchange.com/search?q=user%3A15299+whom+who Commented Apr 18, 2017 at 3:13
  • I believe "who" is not a relative pronoun here, but an interrogative pronoun (edit: I see John Lawler also said this, with the phrase "embedded question complement".) You're gathering information about answering the question "Who can serve as a proctor?"
    – herisson
    Commented Apr 18, 2017 at 3:23

2 Answers 2


"Please gather information on who can serve as a proctor." This sentence is grammatically correct. WHOM cannot be used here, for very good reasons, which could be properly explained by the eminent grammarians.

As I understand it, it's quite simple: I (who am not a grammarian) correlate 'who' with subject and 'whom' with object, and originally though that it's a rough and incomplete comparison.


WHO offended him? (subject)

WHOM has he offended? (object)

We know WHO played this trick. (subject)

On WHOM was this trick played? (object)

However I found the idea that 'who = subject' and 'whom = object' is well established: according to Grammar Girl,

When you’re trying to figure out whether to use who or whom, it helps to know the difference between subjects and objects because you use who when you’re referring to the subject of a clause and whom when you’re referring to the object of a clause. In other words, who is a subject pronoun and whom is an object pronoun.

Source: http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/who-versus-whom

Supporting quote:

“Who” and “whoever” are subjective pronouns; “whom” and “whomever” are in the objective case. That simply means that “who” (and the same for “whoever”) is always subject to a verb, and that “whom” (and the same for “whomever”) is always working as an object in a sentence.

Source: http://web.ku.edu/~edit/whom.html

In your question, the first part of the sentence, 'please collect information on', will not influence the choice of whether who or whom should be used within the second part of the sentence, 'who can be a proctor': in fact who is to be used in this case rather than whom because the word chosen needs to denote the subject. Here 'who' = subject, '(can) be' = verb and 'a proctor' = object.

However your sentence can use 'whom' if it could be rewritten with some modifications:

Please collect information on whom to consider for the post of proctor.

Here 'whom' is used because the pronoun chosen now needs to denote the object of the verb '(to) consider.'

Other examples (my own):

He hates his friend, by WHOM he was duped.

With WHOM did she study for the exam?

This year's semi-finalists are Britain and USA, between WHOM the 1999 Final was played.

For WHOM did the bell toll?

I am very surprised to see this level of confusion between who and whom: applying a 'substitution rule' and so forth! Maybe we should keep it simple, without avoiding 'whom' just on general principles, because the humble 'whom' has its own place in the scheme of things - if we never used 'whom', then "For WHO the bell tolls" would sound like a question put by a learned Indian (for who the bell tolls? The bell tolls for who? For who the bell is tolling?!)

A few more examples...

Prepare a list of those employees WHO can ride a bike.

Brief the students WHOM the Minister will be meeting tomorrow.

WHOM did the Financial Crisis affect? WHO knows for sure!

Find out WHO did it, and for WHOM; WHO will suffer as a consequence, and WHOM will it benefit?

I sincerely believe that 'who' cannot replace 'whom' in most of the above random examples. So we must READ A LOT, practise our usage, and find for ourselves the simplest ways to "keep straight" our who's and whom's!

  • Sadly, this answer is heavily based in prescriptivism, and that leads to views others would contest. Most people would use 'Who did you see?' rather than the traditionally prescribed 'Whom did you see?' nowadays {see these Google Ngrams}. Grammar isn't a done deal; people who think it is have forgotten that usages 300 years ago were significantly different. Commented Jul 8, 2017 at 14:37
  • @Edwin Ashworth I am so weak in describing grammar that I should consider myself lucky if my answer even passed your scrutiny. In fact my answer posted in April was weaker, though I managed to improve it today. I'm conservative when it comes to matters like 'who' and 'whom' because I learned English prescriptively at school in the late 80's and early 90's -- it isn't so much a matter of what 'should be' correct, as that a who heard where a whom is expected sounds rather odd, and a 'whom' misplaced sounds worse -- however I do agree that languages will evolve and grammar will reflect usage. Commented Jul 8, 2017 at 14:50
  • @Edwin Ashworth I improved this answer somewhat, as a direct consequence of asking this new question earlier today: WHY do so many people struggle with ‘who’ and ‘whom’? -- please read this question and contribute your valuable answer or comments, because nobody has yet posted an answer to this question. Commented Jul 8, 2017 at 14:59
  • I can't: it's been answered comprehensively before. John Lawler is regarded as one of the finest analysts of the era. Commented Jul 8, 2017 at 16:01
  • @Edwin Ashworth Thank you for the reference. I shall read John Lawler's posts on this topic [as I could understand it, the expert opinion of John Lawler is that for all intents and purposes, 'who' has already superseded 'whom' in modern use and practically made it obsolete.] Commented Jul 8, 2017 at 23:20

Who is the correct word in this instance.

As sumelic mentioned in a comment, the word in question is an interrogative pronoun. This pronoun functions as the subject of the noun clause (who can serve as a proctor), which in turn is the object of the preposition on. The function of the clause, since it is not a participial or infinitive clause, has no effect on the case of its subject; hence, the proper word is the one that would normally be used as a subject. This, of course, is who.

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    Your answer is technically worded but your logic is impeccable. I upvote! Commented Jul 8, 2017 at 8:42

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