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SAH asked an interesting question about case, I am [who/whom] G-d made me, but one issue that came up in the comments repeatedly is that many people said that they find the example sentence unacceptable with either pronoun.

This suggests that the sentence could be ungrammatical, but I'm having trouble figuring out why it would be. It is possible in general for the verb "make" to take a direct object and an object complement. The object complement can be an adjective, as in "They made me unhappy", or a noun phrase, as in "It made me a believer". We can say "It made me who I am", and things like "Your personality is what makes you you" or "These are the things that made me, me" (people seem to vary in how they punctuate sentences like these, but it's not that hard to find examples).

One thing I considered was that maybe it is grammatical, but hard to parse because it is a kind of "garden path sentence": many of the commenters expressed the idea that having both "who(m)" and "me" is redundant, which to me seems like a misunderstanding of the syntax of the sentence.

For example, Mitch said:

  • The relative pronoun should replace the subject or object in the relative clause but both are still there. It would be "I am who/whom G-d made" or "I am who made me".(who or whom both work; whom is hardly used at all in normal speech nowadays, but religious speech holds on to some archaism me like 'whom'.

    [...] "X is who Y made Z" not grammatical. "Adjective is how Y made Z" grammatical (from "Y made Z Adjective") "X is who/whom Y loves" (from "Y loves X")

If the sentence is actually ungrammatical, and not just difficult to parse, it would seem to indicate some restriction on the ability of who or whom in this position to correspond to anything but a subject or direct object. I wonder if this is related to the dubious acceptability of "who(m)" in contexts like "the girl whom I gave the ring" (where many speakers feel a "to" has to be added to complete the sentence).

Surprisingly to me, it seems like there may be a difference between the animate wh-pronoun who(m) and the inanimate wh-pronoun what, since I received comments suggesting that similar sentences with what do sound acceptable to Araucaria and Mitch:

  • "What they named Christopher was the boy" doesn't seem to bear a good relation to the original, it seems to me . "What they named the boy was Christopher" seems ok to me ... (but grammaticality is in the ear of the beholder, no doubt!) – Araucaria

  • "What they named the boy was Christopher." sounds fine to me. Also "Christopher was what they named the boy" is fine too. – Mitch

In "Christopher was what they named the boy", the word "what" doesn't seem to be either a subject or a direct object, but nevertheless the sentence appears to be grammatical. So what's the relevant difference between this sentence and "I am who(m) G-d made me"?

I'm interested in knowing if there are any grammatical theories that explain why who(m) would be ungrammatical in this context, but any evidence (in addition to the already-established unacceptability judgements of a fair number of commenters here) that you can provide showing that the sentence with who(m) is ungrammatical would suffice as an answer to this question. (Or if you can show that the sentence is grammatical, that would also make a great answer!)

  • The very first sentence in your answer to the OP says: If I could choose neither, I would, since I'm not sure if the sentence is grammatical. So, is the sentence grammatical or not? Have you since changed your mind? – Mari-Lou A May 24 '18 at 9:48
  • @Mari-LouA: Yes; that's the typical pattern for case in sentences with be. My understanding is that in the intended interpretation of SAH's example sentence, the word who(m) is intended to play the role of object complement in the relative clause, but the issue of its case nonetheless seems a bit tricky, because of the discrepancy between the case in the relative clause and in the matrix clause. For this question, though, I intend to ignore case. – sumelic May 24 '18 at 10:16
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    The sentence is grammatical. "God made me who I am." Who am I? Therefore, "I am who God made me." Whom would come in only if you rephrased it to say: "I am whom God made." Because, "God made whom." grammarly.com/blog/… Who should be used to refer to the subject of a sentence. Whom should be used to refer to the object of a verb or preposition. – Bread May 24 '18 at 10:32
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    @sumelic Thanks. I appreciate the difference. But then it is about the case, isn't it? – anemone May 24 '18 at 11:00
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It's grammatical. As per my answer at SAH's question, it's grammaticality is flushed out when one adds what has been (or can be taken to have been) elided, so:

I am who/m God made me to be.

For which I vote for who based on "it sounds better" (the be-all-and-end-all of descriptive linguistics).

Thus

I am who God made me (to be)

is grammatical...

as is the reordered

I am who God made me.

  • 4
    Thanks for answering! I'm wondering how we can tell that "to be" has been elided here. Would you say that there is also an implicit "to be" in sentences like "It made me (to be) who I am" , "They made me (to be) unhappy" or "It made me (to be) a believer"? If not, what are the criteria for using "to be" with the verb "make"? – sumelic May 24 '18 at 10:37
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    Spot on. sumelic and SAH might also consider a somewhat more idiomatic "I am as God made me" but that's a bit of a tangent. :-) – T.J. Crowder May 24 '18 at 12:13
  • It's also prescriptively correct, as "who" is the complement of the (elided) copula "to be", which is required to be in the nominative (or subjective) case. – chepner May 24 '18 at 15:44
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    @chepner: Actually, I don't think that's an accurate description of the prescriptive rule for case after a form of "to be". See my question here: “Being {he/him} is not easy.” Which is prescriptively “correct”? Prescriptivists have called for the objective case after "to be" in sentences like “They supposed it to be me.” – sumelic May 24 '18 at 19:20
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The reason is that traditionally, you can't use who in fused relative clauses; that is, you cannot use who when it figures in two clauses, being the subject (object) of one and the subject (object) of another.

Shakespeare used fused relative clauses:

who steals my purse steals trash.

And they seem to be coming back into use in English today:

I can help who's next.

(Although some people say that this is ungrammatical.)

But traditionally , you can't use who as the pronoun for two overlapping clauses, even though you can use whoever, whatever, or what.

I will do what is right.

There is a good discussion of this on this LanguageLog post, which says much more about it in greater depth than I could.

  • Oh, right! For some reason, even though I read your answer there, I didn't think about how this might be the reason why some of the commenters found the original sentence unparsable. I assumed that there must be some either reason. But this seems likely. – sumelic May 24 '18 at 10:41
  • One thing that I am still a bit confused about: apparently there are exceptions to this restriction. Quinn says "who(m)" is OK in fused relative clauses when there is VP ellipsis or "null complement anaphora", giving the following examples: ... – sumelic May 24 '18 at 10:48
  • "She had the art of pleasing whom she would" and "courting whom she pleased and ignoring all others". I'm trying to figure out what "null complement anaphora" means so I can tell if it could apply to SAH's sentence or not. – sumelic May 24 '18 at 10:49
  • @sumelic: I would guess that "null complement anaphora" means that you can view the sentence as having dropped some pronoun before who(m). So: "She had the art of pleasing those whom she would" But I don't think "I am the one whom God made me." works here—it would have to be "I am the one whom God made," and that means something different. – Peter Shor May 24 '18 at 11:01
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    I agree in general, but your description of a fused relative clauses is misleading The WH- word doesn't have a syntactic role in the larger sentence. Rather the whole clause carries out that function. The easy way to think of a fused relative is to think of an antecedentless relative clause. (The "fused" bit is there in the name because the role of prenucleus and head are both carried out by the WH- word - but that's a bit technical). – Araucaria May 25 '18 at 11:04
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My theory is that the "who" version is rejected by some because they have adopted a "fix-up" rule to satisfy prescriptive grammarians which says: Use relative "who" only when it is the subject of the relative clause -- otherwise use "whom". That often works okay to produce the archaic supposedly correct "whom" forms. It doesn't work here, since "whom" is ungrammatical, so there is no solution for this example. It's all bad. (I don't use "whom" ever, so "who" is okay with me.)

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