7

A friend needs help with his who and whom

Right on the heels of my recent question regarding why 'who' and 'whom' present difficulties for so many native and non-native learners, comes another complex case of ‘who’ and ‘whom’, because my friend, who is doing graduate studies in Public Administration, needs to get his 'who' and 'whom' technically correct as part of an official report he is preparing on a service-related matter, one relevant portion of which I have extracted as an example in the appendix to this question.

The language of his report is bureaucratically complicated and his Supervising Teacher, who has a dual doctorate in English and Public Administration, is very pedantic that the English should be absolutely grammatically correct, which includes the prescriptive use of ‘who’ and ‘whom’.

This means that the excellent generic advice

“use who in every case and always avoid whom

cannot, unfortunately, be applied here. Many grammatically pedantic non-native teachers in my country insist on the proper use of 'whom', especially in official reports and dissertations.

My friend therefore needs a reliable practical approach (that can be applied in any given case) to decide whether 'who' or 'whom' should be employed in a particular situation.


When does it get complicated?

Problems arise when the sentence does not obviously require a subject pronoun, and the concerned verb is moreover not obviously transitive, making it difficult to decide whether it needs an object pronoun. Again, when the sentence has multiple verbs and clauses, where does one look for an indication as to whether it needs a subject pronoun or an object pronoun?

Since I am no grammarian and have always used grammar by instinct and experience, I am struggling with the whole concept here. That is the reason for asking this question at EL&U.


Appendix: Example sentences from my friend's report

I have extracted one relevant passage to better illustrate the problem and this is not a request for proofreading.

"A study of employee expectations regarding future confirmation in Government service, with special emphasis on the ethical aspects in the subjects' claim that long-term provisional employment is a virtual promise of future confirmation":

This special short project conducted a detailed case study of 5 typical auxiliary health care workers who(m) the Government has instructed Heads of Department to terminate from long-standing provisional employment.

The Department of Public Health had allotted special allowances for all subjects who(m) the Supervising Teacher considered deserving of compensatory remuneration for their time and effort spent participating in this project.

Mr.A, who(m) the academic committee had originally advised against, was however selected as the 5th subject due to a lack of other 'typical' cases.

The Supervising Teacher Mrs.B later raised an objection regarding payment of the special allowance to Mr.A, who(m) she had expressed reservations about in writing, leading to his initial disqualification by the academic committee, although he was subsequently selected and did actually participate as a subject of the study.

The Head of the Accounts Department delivered the official opinion that a person who(m) the Supervising Teacher had specifically shown a reluctance towards nominating as a subject of the study could not be considered for the award of any special allowance.

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    It appears to me that in all those cases who/whom is an object pronoun, because it refers to the object of its clause. – Andrew Leach Jul 16 '17 at 12:24
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    What is with the recent spate in questions about whom? – Dan Bron Jul 16 '17 at 12:53
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    @EnglishStudent Then shouldn't they be telling you the rule they insist upon rather than vice-versa? – Dan Bron Jul 16 '17 at 12:57
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    If you want to make a question longish like this, you want to give it headings. I'll come back and read it if you do. Just ping me back after you've done it. I've pinged @Mari-LouA into this comment too, because she thinks perhaps your question's re-openable. (It might be, but you'd have to reformat otherwise who's going to read it thisnlong? And then who's going to write you an answer for a question that's so long - without clearly sign-posted subheadings?) – Araucaria Jul 17 '17 at 23:38
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    @EnglishStudent - I suggest you place a bounty on the question to give visibility. – user66974 Jul 19 '17 at 8:14
8

First of all, each of the examples given in the body of your question should be "whom."

This is a holdover from when the English language had cases, which you sort of referenced by noting the difficulty in identifying a subject. Who is always a subject, while whom is either a direct object, indirect object, or object of preposition:

1) Whom did you kill? (DO) 2) To whom did you give the book? (IO) 3) Who is the person about whom you are talking? (ObjP)

If it is difficult to tell by looking at the original sentence, try moving the who/whom in the sentence to see whether it holds an object position:

1) ...the Government has instructed Heads of Department to terminate whom from long-standing provisional employment.

2)...the Supervising Teacher considered whom deserving of compensatory remuneration...

3)...the academic committee had originally advised against whom...

4)...she had expressed reservations about whom in writing...

5)...the Supervising Teacher had specifically shown a reluctance towards nominating whom...

It may initially feel weird performing this kind of move operation, but if you can't immediately see whether the who/whom is acting as an object or not, then this is the easiest way to disambiguate that.

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    I like your point "try moving the who/whom in the sentence to see whether it holds an object position" -- thank you for answering the question and suggesting one simple method to decide whether the sentence takes an object pronoun. – English Student Jul 19 '17 at 13:51
  • Please note that I have accepted your excellent answer to make sure it comes right next to the question, as it contains a very good method for learners to use to decide correctly upon (whether to use) who or whom; but I have awarded the bounty to John Lawler's grammatically more detailed answer which clarified my own concept of this topic. Many thanks for your contribution towards improving my understanding of who and whom! – English Student Jul 26 '17 at 7:07
2

The ‘simple’ substitution of he/him to determine whether to use who/whom does not always work for more complex sentences, sometimes leading to incorrect results, as a number of similar recent questions emphasise:

  1. Conflicting who/whom usage rules in a sentence

  2. The use of "whoever" or "whomever" in complex sentence

In the first example of such confusion the OP was not able to clarify the situation using the substitution rule and in the second, the OP had explained in comments that using the substitution rule led to a false 'whom' where 'who' is to be used. That shows the need for some sort of a simple algorithm that would help non-native speakers of English correctly choose who/whom for almost any situation, especially when the sentence has multiple subjects, objects, verbs and clauses.

I am still working on this very interesting topic but what I have managed to grasp is the following;

'who' is a subject pronoun and 'whom' is an object pronoun

as explained by Professor Malcolm Gibson's article Who is correct? Yes, though it may depend on whom you ask! which I referenced in two of my answers on ELU regarding who/whom: therefore an example of a practical approach that I would suggest at present would be

  1. Look at the verb that requires who/whom:
    if the verb needs a subject pronoun, select ‘who’. If the verb does not need a subject pronoun, see whether it is a transitive or an intransitive verb.

  2. If it is a transitive verb, it needs an object pronoun: so select ‘whom’

  3. If it is an intransitive verb or a linking verb, it does not need an object pronoun: so select ‘who’.

  4. In more complex sentences having multiple verbs, the choice of who/whom depends on whether the clause as a whole takes a subject pronoun or an object pronoun.


Appendix: Explanatory notes

The so-called ‘simple substitution rule’ given in earlier answers works especially well in simple sentences, as does my own method highlighted above. Problems arise when the sentence does not obviously require a subject pronoun, and the concerned verb is moreover not obviously transitive, making it difficult to decide whether it needs an object pronoun.

As @Peter Shor pointed out elsewhere in comments, problems also arise when the sentence has more than one verb, in which case the problem is how to decide which verb ‘who/whom’ would apply to: to determine which, some element of contextual reading and deconstruction might be required.

Example: “These are the men who they believe conspired to rob a bank.” – Peter Shor

Decoding this sentence, “what do they believe?” – “they believe (that) these men conspired to rob a bank.”

Whom is not to be used after ‘these are the men’ because the object of the transitive verb ‘believe’ is not ‘these men’ but the object clause, “these men conspired to rob a bank.”

Now it is notable that changing any verb other than 'believe' will not change the choice of who/whom: not even if a transitive verb like '(they) saw', which makes ‘these men’ its object, were to replace ‘conspired’; as in

they believe (that) they saw these men rob the bank:

these are the men who they believe they saw rob the bank.

Why not ‘whom’, since they saw these men? Aren't these the men whom they saw rob the bank? Not exactly, because they only 'believe' so – and the object of the verb ‘believe’ is again not ‘these men’ but the object clause 'they saw these men rob the bank' – in short, ‘these men’ never being the object of ‘believe’, ‘whom’ is not to be selected here.

Modifying the use of ‘believe’ a little will, however, change the choice of who/whom:

They believe these men to have conspired to rob the bank.

‘These men’ having finally become the object of ‘believe’, ‘whom’ is now required here.

These are the men (whom) they believe to have conspired to rob the bank.

Thus we might conclude, as @Andrew Leach suggested in a comment here, that

(4) in more complex sentences having multiple verbs, the choice of who/whom depends on whether the clause as a whole takes a subject pronoun or an object pronoun [paraphrase].

Expert members please evaluate this method and post comments suggesting corrections/improvements to the practical approach I have highlighted in this answer.

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    The part about adding in saw is not correct: it should be whom in that sentence: “These are the men whom they believe they saw rob the bank”. If you transform it into a main clause, you get “They believe they saw them rob the bank”, which has an object pronoun. When the whole sentence is turned into a relative clause, that object pronoun is extracted from its position within the embedded clause and placed at the head of the entire relative clause—but it retains its original function and underlying location. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 19 '17 at 8:35
  • Note that this is actually precisely the same, structurally speaking, as the version without saw: “These are the men who they believe robbed the bank” → “They believe they robbed the bank” (subject, who). The relative pronoun who here is also extracted from within the embedded clause (that) they robbed the bank. It can get quite hard to keep track of with very complex sentences, but the choice of who(m) always depends on the function of the referent in the underlying clause. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 19 '17 at 8:38
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    The substitution rule works fine, the difficulty is in decoding the sentence, not in the rule. – Ben Jul 19 '17 at 8:57
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    The rule for learners is simple: Just use "who". Nobody will care. Use of "whom" should be considered advanced, not to be contemplated until you can curse idiomatically. :-) – Ben Jul 19 '17 at 9:11
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    @Mari-lou A the main reason is that the excellent feedback of Janus Bahs Jacquet, MAA and John Lawler goes in more or less the same direction, which is a good approach that involves 'finding the gap' and substituting the pronoun to see if it is a subject pronoun or an object pronoun -- whereas my answer follows a very different logic of analysing the verb itself to see if it is transitive or intransitive or a linking verb -- so I did learn much from their answers but do not really see a way to use that to improve my own answer. However their approach now seems a better option for the Learner! – English Student Jul 25 '17 at 11:22
6
+100

Relative pronouns like who, which, etc. are extracted from some position in the relative clause and moved to the front of the clause.
I.e,

  • the car [which she saw ___ in the street]
    starts with a clause that modifies a noun phrase the car,
    that contains a noun phrase the car --
      the car [she saw the car in the street]
    then the car is changed to a relative pronoun (which), and moved to the front of the clause,
    leaving a conceptual gap (____) in the clause showing the original position of the NP.

That's the way it works in all cases, except for the case in which the NP is the subject of the clause. There's no movement then, because the subject is already at the beginning of the sentence; it just needs to be changed to a relative pronoun and we're done.
I.e,

  • the dog [which barked in the night]
    comes from
    the dog [the dog barked in the night]
    and we're done. No movement, no gap.

Who and whom work the same way as which, but there's a complication.

Since Relative Formation is an unbounded extraction rule, the relativized noun phrase can come from any part of the relative clause, no matter how many subordinate clauses it has. That means the gap is not always easy to find, especially for a non-native speaker.
E.g, the relativized NP can be the subject,

  • the man [the man told me yesterday the FBI was after him]
    ==>
    the man [who told me yesterday the FBI was after him]

but it can also be the object of a preposition several levels down

  • the man [the FBI told me yesterday they were after the man]
    ==>
    the man [whom the FBI told me yesterday they were after ____].

In fact, it can be arbitrarily far down, and may be the subject of a predicate in another clause.

  • the man [the FBI told me Mary said she thought the man was guilty]
    ==>
    the man [who the FBI told me Mary said she thought ____ was guilty].
    (whom is incorrect here because the man is the subject of was guilty)

When there is a preposition involved (as with advise against and reservations about), then Pied-Piping the preposition along with the relative pronoun can be employed to muddy the waters even further; it's an optional rule, but it can be employed whenever the relative pronoun is a prepositional object. This is the only construction in English that actually requires whom
(though, since pied-piping is optional, whom is still never required; just avoid pied-piping).
Viz.

  • Mr.A, against whom the academic committee had originally advised,
  • Mr.A, about whom she had expressed reservations in writing,

Executive summary: Find that gap, test it with he/him, and pied-pipe all prepositions.

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    Thank you @John Lawler for the detailed and illuminating answer that helped me (finally) understand the workings of which, who and whom. It is very kind of you -- especially considering your expert opinion that 'whom' is never required -- and I appreciate it very much. – English Student Jul 21 '17 at 21:54
  • Did @Engl actually read the answer? Lawler concedes that there is a context in which who cannot substitute for whom. – AmE speaker Jul 22 '17 at 1:33
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    @Clare: The only context in which whom is required is when it follows, and is the object of, a preposition. This is the context produced by pied-piping. However, pied-piping is always optional (like whom, outside a prepositional phrase), so it's still true that one never needs to use whom, unless one wishes to. The OP apparently wishes to, and pied-piping will make whom even more stuffy. The problem is always going to be finding that gap; it takes a lot of skill to anticipate the grammatical structure of something you haven't said yet. – John Lawler Jul 22 '17 at 15:25
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    +1 Though it's a bit like watching a therapist show someone how to walk with a limp.;) – Araucaria Jul 25 '17 at 14:53
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    Yeah, well, that's what drama coaches are for. – John Lawler Jul 25 '17 at 15:39

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