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This one is confusing me. I've tried replacing with "they / them" but I just can't seem to work out which choice is correct. Here is the offending sentence:

"There are those who(m) understand this sentence, and those who(m) do not"

My native ear like this the best:

"There are those whom understand this sentence, and those who do not"

However I'm far from certain. Can someone please give the correct choice for who/whom in this sentence, and explain why?

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    – tchrist
    Commented Feb 4, 2022 at 21:58

1 Answer 1

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"There are those whom understand this sentence, and those who do not"

This is not correct, it should be:

"There are those who understand this sentence, and those who do not"

It should be "there are those who understand this sentence" for the same reason it should be "and those who do not". Why would you expect the relativisers to be different when the structure of the relative clauses is the same?

It should be "there are those who understand this sentence" because "who" is the subject of the relative clause, i.e.: they understand this sentence. If, for some bizarre reason, you wanted to rephrase it as "there are those by whom this sentence is understood" then you would use "whom" because "whom" goes with the preposition "by", i.e. "this sentence is understood by them".

A nice trick you can use is to try playing with the numbers and see what happens to the verb. Let me show you what I mean. Instead of "there are those who understand this sentence" try "there is a man who understands this sentence". Notice that it has become "understands" to agree with "a man" (which is what "who" refers to, we say it is the "antecedent" of "who"). Thus "who" is the subject of "understands". Whereas, in "there is a man by whom these sentences are understood" the verb agrees with "these sentences", it's plural ("are understood", not "is understood"). Thus "these sentences" is the subject of the verb, not "whom" because "whom" refers to "a man", which is singular and the verb is not singular.

You can try and avoid using "whom" altogether if you want, but it remains part of the language, and if you try and avoid it completely you'll find yourself saying "to who it may concern" and "with who?" Better advice would be not to overthink and use "whom" only where you know it belongs.

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  • Thank you. In line with the other comments, I'll try to avoid using "whom" unless it is obvious. I like your "playing with numbers" suggestion, but I find it also confusing. Because "them" could be just one person. I suppose grammatically it counts as multiple people, because it could be more than one person? As in "them" is a kind of container word that could have zero, one, or many people in it? Thanks again for the help. Commented Feb 2, 2022 at 1:04
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    Just don't use it at all. You can use who anywhere, but since you don't understand the rules for the use of whom, as your example shows, you just shouldn't use it at all. Most English speakers don't, because they don't understand the rules either. So don't bother with it. Commented Feb 2, 2022 at 3:22

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