The Blue Book of Grammar has a question: "John knows WHO/WHOM the winner is." The correct answer is: "John knows WHO the winner is." But ... The main clause is "John Knows." But WHOM is actually the pronoun of "the winner" and the verb "is". I used the usual rules and got 9 / 10 other questions right, but this one stumped me. Where am I going wrong?

  • 4
    Does this answer your question? What’s the rule for using “who” and “whom” correctly?
    – shoover
    Commented Apr 27, 2020 at 19:57
  • Thanks, there's some good info there - though most of it agrees with what I already know. I'll read through it all tomorrow.
    – Miner64
    Commented Apr 27, 2020 at 20:24
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    I don’t like this “Does this answer your question” approach. It does nothing for anyone but the OP and is a subtle put-down. Patronizing.
    – Xanne
    Commented Apr 27, 2020 at 21:21
  • @Xanne I agree. And since the questions are almost never perfect fits, it's a piece of banter we don't need. The problem with this question is that what the OP already knows is wrong: whom is not the pronoun of the verb "knows". Verbs don't have pronouns, let alone distinctive ones. And the winner is not an object; it's the subject of is. Commented Apr 27, 2020 at 21:24
  • Yes, quite right. It was late... However, I edited the question so that it will be clear to anybody who has a similar problem.
    – Miner64
    Commented Apr 28, 2020 at 6:21

2 Answers 2


In the relative clause (WHO/WHOM the winner is) appears the verb "to be", which can't have an object; "to be" is a copular verb and copular verbs have no object; since "whom" is the object case for the pronoun, that would make it the object of the verb "to be"; therefore the pronoun form is "who".

  • Excellent answer. That clears up that mystery.
    – Miner64
    Commented Apr 28, 2020 at 6:04

First, we need to separate out your embedded question clause (who the winner is). That whole clause is the object of the verb knows.

Now let's look at that clause . . .

Is is a linking verb. There are no objects in linking verb clauses. You can see this quite clearly when pronouns are involved. Both the subject and subject complement are subject pronouns:

Who is he? . . . Not: *Who is him? or *Whom is he?


Here that is again as an embedded question clause (which gets inverted):

who he is . . . Not: *who him is or *whom he is


Now you can swap in the winner from your original example for he:

who the winner is

And put the clause back as your object. John knows what? Who the winner is:

John knows who the winner is.


Had you a non-linking verb instead, you would use the object pronoun whom:*

Whom does the winner like? John knows whom the winner likes. The winner likes him.


*Note that there are some who say that it is safe to eschew whom in any circumstance. You'll have to talk that out with your grammarian.


  • I appreciate this answer - it is correct. Unfortunately, I can only tick one. And yes, Whom is, and perhaps should be, is on its way out. But not on the tests found in grammar books like Strauss's neat Blue Book. Not yet.
    – Miner64
    Commented Apr 28, 2020 at 6:23

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