I think I noticed a mistake in Ready Player One:

In the OASIS, you could become whomever and whatever you wanted to be, without ever revealing your true identity, because your anonymity was guaranteed.

It’s supposed to be whoever right?

  • 1
    There are several previously asked questions - easy to find - such as this question which itself linked to an earlier question, and this question. Commented Jun 26, 2018 at 19:49
  • Whomever is the technically correct word, not whoever. Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 1:05
  • The tendency nowadays is not to use accusative case pronouns, but wherever possible to use the nominative case instead (e.g. "It's only me", not "It's only I"). But in examples like yours, the tendency is reversed and the nominative case tends to be preferred. In other words, "whomever" is fine but many people would say "whoever".
    – BillJ
    Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 6:57
  • Ah ok, i was under the impression that it was “by, at, to, with whomever” but “be, is, become whoever”.
    – Kurt
    Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 7:26
  • Related: Who/Whom do you want to be?, He must decide who/whom to be. Which is correct? BillJ's comments should be understood as coming from a descriptive, not a prescriptive perspective: they are about what is (hence the use of words like "the tendency nowadays") more than they are about what is "supposed to be" (which is a matter of opinion).
    – herisson
    Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 8:01

2 Answers 2


It's not actually clear whether "whomever" is a mistake here.

The relevant matrix clause breaks down like this:

You could become [whomever and whatever you wanted to be]

Here, [whomever and whatever you wanted to be] is a predicative complement.

In the embedded clause, "whomever and whatever" serves as the (fronted) predicative complement of "to be".

Here we run into a problem. "To be" is a non-finite form (it's the "to-infinitive"). In certain contexts, a to-infinitive may have a subject that takes "exceptional case-marking". For example, in the sentence "I wanted him to be my friend", "him" is marked for the accusative case even though it is the subject of the infinitive "to be". "Traditional" prescriptive grammarians seem to be in agreement that in a context like this, the predicate noun phrase associated with the to-infinitive is also supposed to be in the accusative, so for example, it would be "correct" to say "He said he would be whomever I wanted him to be".

But as far as I know, there is no consensus in "traditional" grammar about the "correct" case of "X" in a clause like "you wanted to be X". There seem to be two views: one is in favor of the nominative, because the (implied) subject of "to be" refers to the same person as the nominative pronoun "you". The other view is that there is an "implied" accusative subject (something like "you wanted yourself to be X") which means that the predicate noun phrase "X" should be in the accusative case. See Peter Shor's answer to my question “Being [he/him] is not easy.” Which is prescriptively “correct”?; Shor cites Reed and Kellogg (1878), who say that "I wish to be him—equalling I wish (me or myself) to be him—is the proper form" (p. 182). In contrast, Josephine Turck Baker (whom I cite in my question), says that "the pronouns I, he, she, we, they follow to be when to be is not preceded by a noun or a pronoun", and gives examples like "I should like to be she" (Correct English, Vol 21, 1920).

In fact, the actual distinction in usage between "whoever" and "whomever" is highly confused and unclear in modern English, so even if the "traditional" sources were unanimous it would be a bit difficult to say what is "supposed" to be the case.

Here are some possible explanations for the use of the "accusative" form whomever here:

  1. "Hypercorrection." I don't actually understand the precise definition of this term; some people seem to use it with a fairly broad sense, but others seem to have a much narrower definition. In any case, this could be characterized as a kind of "mistake": it's where a form associated with more elevated language is used in an "incorrect" context, without following any particular rule.

  2. Grammatical variation between Standard English speakers. If this is the cause, the use of "whomever" would not be categorized as a "mistake" by a linguist, although many speakers might call it a mistake regardless. I suppose it would not be entirely surprising if people don't all have the same grammatical intuitions about the use of rarely used words like "whomever". In this case, the use of "whomever" might be licensed in some dialects because "whomever and whoever" does not serve as the subject of the internal clause (that role is taken by "you").


You can say whomever. As a check, replace 'whomever' with 'him' and the sentence would make sense. Replace 'whoever' with 'he' and check that the sentence makes sense. However, many people are not familiar with 'whom' and it is commonly simply replaced with 'who' or 'whoever', so that it has become interchangeable in most cases.

  • 1
    Please support your answer with a reputable source. It may be easier to search for one if you replace "become who(m)ever" with "be who(m)ever". Also see subject compliments
    – Phil Sweet
    Commented Jun 26, 2018 at 21:57
  • Added :) this is where I got it from
    – esu
    Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 8:18
  • Can someone provide me with some constructive criticism. It seems that the answer isn't well received and I'm not sure what I should change.
    – esu
    Commented Jun 29, 2018 at 14:13

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.