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I read this morning :

... words which leap from the second verse and alert whomever may read the epistle ... to the fact that ...

I am not clear with what exactly is going on with 'alert whomever may read'. Is 'whomever' the grammatical object of 'alert' or is it the grammatical subject of 'may read' ? Or is it both ?

So should it be 'whoever' ?

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    @Kris You have noted incorrectly. The relevant verb is not alert, but may read, since that is the verb with which who(m)ever has a direct relation. Who(m)ever is not the object of alert, but it is the subject of may read. Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 18:34

2 Answers 2

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It should be 'whoever' since the pronoun must agree with the verb in the dependent clause to which the pronoun belongs (whoever may read):

https://www.grammarbook.com/grammar/whoever.asp

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  • Yes, but the noun phrase "who(m)ever may read the epistle" is object of "alert", which would favour accusative "whomever".
    – BillJ
    Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 13:23
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    @BillJ No it doesn't. This is because the object of "alert" is not just the one following word, but the entire clause "whoever may read the epistle titled 'Hebrews'". Making that clause the object of a verb in a surrounding clause does not entail changing "whoever" into "whomever".
    – Rosie F
    Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 16:53
  • @RosieF Let me put it another way: there is a clash between the function of the whole NP and that of the relativised element - respectively object of "alert" and subject (note that "who(m)ever may read the epistle" is not a clause but an NP in a fused relative construction). OK now?
    – BillJ
    Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 19:25
  • And pronouns which function as head of direct object are normally accusative case, i.e. "whomever". Which explains why this answer is not accurate.
    – BillJ
    Commented Dec 6, 2018 at 8:01
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... words which leap from the second verse and alert who(m)ever may read the epistle ... to the fact that ...

Both sound a little weird, because the construction imposes competing but unsatisfiable requirements: "who(m)ever" must be nominative because it's the subject of "may read", but it must be accusative because it's the head of the NP "who(m)ever may read the epistle" and it can't be both, so you have a quandary.

There's no way to get out of the quandary: you have to infringe one condition or the other. English is not well designed in this respect!

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    @NigelJ "Whoever" is preferable in contemporary language, though many would regard it as less than fully acceptable in formal style. I would be loathe to criticise "whomever" in ancient or religious texts such as your example.
    – BillJ
    Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 13:36
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    Why must who(m)ever be accusative to be the head of a NP? In particular when that NP (can you even call it a NP?) is a clause in which who(m)ever is the subject? Just because the clause as a whole is the object of a verb, its subject doesn’t have to be in the objective case. I can’t see any real quandary here. Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 18:33
  • "... you have to infringe one condition or the other." -- there's only one, and nothing has been infringed upon. See my comment at OP.
    – Kris
    Commented Dec 6, 2018 at 11:10
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    @Kris Nonsense. You are clearly clueless about the grammar here.
    – BillJ
    Commented Dec 6, 2018 at 12:30
  • @JanusBahsJacquet: Does it make sense to say that the clause as a whole is the object? A clause is not/does not mean the same thing as its subject
    – herisson
    Commented Dec 6, 2018 at 12:58

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