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Should we have who or whom here?

He's talking about people who run fast. I run fast. I'm who(m) he's talking about.

I understand that "who(m) he's talking about" is a free relative clause and we'd say "I'm the person whom he's talking about" (so I'd guess "whom"). Wikipedia says "Modern guides to English usage say that the relative pronoun should take the case appropriate to the relative clause, not the function performed by that clause within an external clause." I just wanted to double check that that still applies with "to be" and a free relative clause.

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Yes, "whom" is correct, because it functions as the object of the preposition "about".1 However, I prefer to call this a nominal clause (or content clause, etc.)--though I suppose that's a matter of preference. The fact that the clause performs a function that would normally take the subject case (in your sentence, it functions as a nominal subject complement) doesn't matter; the clause could even function as a subject, for example:

For whom you work is irrelevant. ("Who" is not common here.)

or:

Whom you work for is irrelevant. ("Who" is probably more common here than "whom" and widely considered acceptable.)


Note 1: As you probably know, many people accept "who" even when the pronoun functions as an object.

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  • It’s nearly—but possibly not quite absolutely—impossible to have a prepositional phrase as the clausal subject, but if possible then it is nonetheless still rare and unusual, and yours is not one of those cases. In the back would be better than in the front would be is—perhaps, and arguably—one such case. To be the subject, you need to unravel your ugly pied-piping that has rendered your version ungrammatical: Whom you work for is irrelevant. Now it’s grammatical again because now it’s a noun clause instead of a prepositional phrase, and noun clauses are substantives not modifiers.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jul 2, 2022 at 23:57
  • @tchrist I'm not construing any prepositional phrase as a subject. In the subordinate clause, "you" is the subject. Commented Jul 3, 2022 at 0:09
  • What's the subject of is? That's the problem. The main clause needs to have a subject, and it can't be a prepositional phrase.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jul 3, 2022 at 0:20
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    @Zan 'Ugly or not, is pied-piping necessarily ungrammatical?' No. But at some point, Orwell's Sixth Rule kicks in and 'unacceptable as outlandish' trumps any considerations of grammaticality. "It's we"??? Commented Jul 3, 2022 at 14:31
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    @EdwinAshworth I've edited to include a version with the preposition postponed (stranded). I originally didn't want to muddy the waters, but I suppose that the answer is more comprehensive now. Commented Jul 3, 2022 at 19:53

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