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Please note I don't need theory on who/whom usage. I need to understand the dictionary's explanation.

I found the following article on merriam-webster.com recently:

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/whom

It says:

though now often considered stilted especially as an interrogative and especially in oral use —occasionally used as predicate nominative with a copulative verb or as subject of a verb especially in the vicinity of a preposition or a verb of which it might mistakenly be considered the object

Is the given explanation correct? I know you can only use whom as an object! But they say it's occasionally used in a way we might mistakenly consider it as the object. They also provide us with the following example sentence:

people … whom you never thought would sympathize — Shea Murphy

It means 'I never thought I would sympathize with these people.' Is that right?

But if we would say: 'people … who you never thought would sympathize,' it would mean 'I never thought these people would sympathize with anyone.' Am I correct?

Then, based on the explanation, if whom is used as the subject, then in fact we have to use who instead of whom. But occasionally it happens that people use whom when we have to use who. How do I know the exact meaning of this sentence then (based on Merriam-Webster's explanation)? Should I contact Shea Murphy to provide me with a clarification or what?

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    I think that phrase is implicitly assuming that most people will use ‘who’ where ‘whom’ should be used and that ‘whom’ ought to still be used where there may be confusion.
    – Cass Lopez
    Aug 8 '21 at 13:24
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    The dictionary is commenting on reasonably common (they decide the parameters) usages its surveys find, and the '... people … whom you never thought would sympathize' quote is an example they must have found occurring reasonably often. According to traditional grammar, it's wrong (a hypercorrection) probably modelled on 'people whom you never thought such plights would move'. But grammar is not as set in stone as many believe. Aug 8 '21 at 14:18
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    In other words, whom is no longer used the same way, and its grammar has changed, though the dictionary is still trying to describe a register distinction rule (viz, "Use whom instead of who in important, formal, complicated sentences; it's a more important word than who and contributes to the seriousness of the text") in grammatical terms. That description is just one rule that some people use, not the only one, so its "correctness" is moot. Aug 8 '21 at 14:46
  • @EdwinAshworth 'people whom you never thought such plights would move' – for this sentence, does it work as an object or a subject then?
    – bobby
    Aug 9 '21 at 0:38
  • Compare 'You never thought such plights would move they/them'. Aug 9 '21 at 11:48
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people … whom you never thought would sympathize — Shea Murphy

It means 'I never thought I would sympathize with these people.' Is that right?

No, “people whom you never thought would sympathize” and “people who you never thought would sympathize” mean the same thing.

The use of whom vs who does not create ambiguity here. If it meant “I never thought I would sympathize with these people”, it would have to be “people with whom I never thought I would sympathize” or “people I never thought I would sympathize with.”

Is the given explanation correct? I know you can only use whom as an object! But they say it's occasionally used in a way we might mistakenly consider it as the object.

Merriam Webster, like most well-regarded modern dictionaries, takes a generally “descriptive” viewpoint in its statements about English usage. It isn’t talking about “correctness”, it’s taking about what people actually say. It’s saying that “You can only use whom as an object” is not true from a descriptive point of view: people can and do use whom in some cases where it isn’t an object. The quotation you asked about is an example where whom is not used as an object.

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    But a dictionary will filter out very rare [mis]usages its surveys turn up. Aug 8 '21 at 14:28
  • Thank you for your reply. In sentences like these, how do I know what an author means then? Does a lack of a preposition help in this case? (If we add 'with' to it, the sentence changes its meaning — just like in your explanation). But the dictionary's article also says 'especially in the vicinity of a preposition or a verb,' so it actually means that the meaning depends on the writer who can use it this way? I mean, we can have a preposition nearby, but 'whom' can still act as a subject?
    – bobby
    Aug 8 '21 at 23:50
  • They actually have two example sentences for this explanation. The second is from the Bible and it goes like this: 'But whom say ye that I am?'. I think it means something like 'But who do you think I am?'. I found another variant of this phrase which comes from the New International Version and it's: 'Who do you say I am?', which is just like what I thought it was. For this sentence, why did they list it there then, if 'whom' is an object here, not a subject? How does it correlate with the explanation?
    – bobby
    Aug 9 '21 at 0:15

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