The phrase "never knew who to trust" is from a fairly recent popular song.

It should be "never knew whom to trust".

My question is: how do you reach that change?

Is it because "whom to trust" functions as the object of the verb "knew"? If I recall correctly, in Latin, when you have an indirect question or an indirect statement, the relevant indirect phrase following the verb is in the nominative rather than the accusative. So in that language, it would actually be "who". Can anyone confirm my recollection?

Or is it also because in the phrase "whom to trust", "whom" is the object of the verb "trust"?

Either way, you reach the relevant change. I'd be grateful for your thoughts.

Note: this is not a duplicate of the linked questions. There are two elements here, first the accusative (not dative) object of the verb and second the indirect question with complement. That second element has not fully been answered.

  • 1
    You've got the grammar wrong. "Whom to trust" is a subordinate interrogative clause (embedded question) functioning as complement (not object) of "knew", where the meaning is "never knew the answer to the question 'Who(m) should I trust?'" Strictly speaking, since the pronoun is object of "trust" it should be accusative "whom", but most people would simply use the nominative "who".
    – BillJ
    Commented Jul 27, 2018 at 11:28
  • Thanks. My terminology is from Latin so this is helpful. I had thought that only "to be" takes a complement in clauses. So in English it is actually the complement of a clause rather than an indirect question. And it is only in the accusative because of the verb "trust". What if it were simply "never knew who"?
    – user310185
    Commented Jul 27, 2018 at 11:34
  • Some people do call it an 'indirect question', but subordinate interrogative clause is better. Such clauses 'express' questions, but do not themselves ask them. The clause is complement of the verb "knew". It's a complement because it's required to complete the verb phrase.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jul 27, 2018 at 11:42
  • Many thanks. And such complements do not take the accusative case, because they are not objects?
    – user310185
    Commented Jul 27, 2018 at 11:43
  • In the subordinate interrogative clause, "who(m) is direct object of "trust", so traditional grammar requires accusative "whom". But the trend nowadays is to use nominative "who" in examples like yours despite what the prescriptivists say!
    – BillJ
    Commented Jul 27, 2018 at 11:47

1 Answer 1


In casual speech and writing, and certainly "popular songs" the who/whom distinction has more or less vanished.

Either as a relative pronoun or question word, whom is rarely used in conversation. Formal writing, yes, but ordinary conversation, no.

Who or whom

Whom is rapidly falling out of fashion.

Who or whom (Oxford)

Who or whom? The great debate