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Which of the following sentences is correct according to English grammar and usage? (Note: this was asked in an examination and I have to select only one of the four sentences.)

1) The fishermen, whom the flood victims owed their lives, were rewarded by the government.

2) The fishermen, to which the flood victims owed their lives, were rewarded by the government.

3) The fishermen, to whom the flood victims owed their lives, were rewarded by the government.

4) The fishermen, that the flood victims owed their lives, were rewarded by the government.

I think it is 1) or 3), but I’m not sure which. Is “to” required before “whom” in a sentence like this?

marked as duplicate by Mari-Lou A, lbf, David, Lambie, Cascabel Feb 7 at 17:48

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  • Both are fine. You can even say: The fisherman, whom the river victims owed their lives to, were rewarded… (note the extra comma) – Mari-Lou A Feb 6 at 12:05
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    I don't like (1). But you could use The fisherman, who the river victims owed their lives to, were rewarded by the government. – Peter Shor Feb 6 at 12:21
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    Yeah, #1 is not good. – Hot Licks Feb 6 at 12:25
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    There's still the problem of the plural verb (were) not agreeing with the subject (the fisherMAN) which escaped my attention the first time. Who was rewarded? The fisherman or the river / flood victims? – Mari-Lou A Feb 7 at 16:51
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    This is a duplicate of the same question, with the same mistakes: english.stackexchange.com/questions/484416/… However, it was closed and has no accepted answers. – Cascabel Feb 7 at 17:47

If you have to choose only one option from "whom the river victims owed their lives" and "to whom the river victims owed their lives", go with "to whom the river victims owed their lives". This version of the relative clause is undeniably grammatical in standard written English. Putting a prepositional phrase containing a wh-word at the front of a relative clause is called "pied-piping" by linguists; it is relatively formal and may sound stilted in conversational English, but it wouldn't be considered "incorrect" in the context of an examination that is testing your mastery of standard written English.

There is less clarity about the status of clauses like "whom the river victims owed their lives". In this relative clause, the word "whom" represents the "indirect object" of the verb owe. Some sources say that wh-fronting of indirect objects is ungrammatical, or at least "infelicitous". For specific references, see my answer to Is “Whom did you give the book?” ungrammatical? Different speakers seem to have different judgements of the acceptability of clauses with fronted wh-words functioning as indirect objects.

  • you are right. i made some mistake and sorry for that.. i am now editing the question with exact sentences.. please look again at the question.. again am very sorry for that. – empty-soul Feb 7 at 14:57
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    @empty-soul "some" mistakes? You left out some of the punctuation, you forgot about the other two options, you omitted the fact that it came from a test paper. Better late than never I suppose, so I've retracted my downvote. However, it means Sumelic answer only discusses the difference between 1 and 3. – Mari-Lou A Feb 7 at 22:21
  • Examination was online and question paper was not released until then. What i have written previously in question was memory based. Yesterday i got the question paper and hence corrected accordingly. – empty-soul Feb 8 at 5:27

It appears that all four edited examples are in error. The singular subject "fisherman" requires a singular verb "was."

  • oh,, then have a look at this picture imgur.com/a/mhlguhu .. it was exact question that was asked.. – empty-soul Feb 7 at 17:34
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    i have edited.. it was actually fishermen – empty-soul Feb 7 at 17:38

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