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I am currently doing this IB English Literature question, but I am kind of stuck with this answer.

Which section of the following passage needs to be edited for incorrect spelling, incorrect grammar, inappropriate word choice or wordiness?

A. “Give the rest of the pizza to
B. whomever asks for it;
C. I certainly don’t want
D. any more slices.”

The correct answer is B. The whomever is incorrect, it should be whoever. I am a little bit stuck why we should use whoever here. I understand whoever is used in the subject position of a sentence, and whomever is an object, but in this context shouldn't we use whomever?

This is another example from Google

Examples of Whomever in a Sentence:
Harry should give the award to whomever he thinks deserves it.

But don't the two sentences have similar structure (all have a small clause afterwards)?

The explanation for the answer:

Answer: B - Corrected version: whoever asks for it;

Whomever should be changed to whoever. Whoever is used in the subject position of a sentence, and whomever is an object. In the above sentence, whoever is the subject of the embedded clause, “whoever asks for it,” even though the embedded clause is itself an indirect object.

Any help will be appreciated. Thanks!

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    I'm having difficulty understanding your question. For example, where is the 'italicised portion' that you mentioned?
    – BillJ
    Aug 26, 2022 at 12:24
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    Very simple answer: anything containing whomever should be avoided. In this case, it's used as a subject, the same as using whom or him as subject, an obvious case for an exam. But if you don't see it as obvious, then follow the simple rule and never use it, since you don't understand how it sposta be used. Don't use words you don't understand, because you have not been taught enough to do it right. Aug 26, 2022 at 15:00
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    @JohnLawler, thanks for your comment. But still one confusion, isn't the subject for "Give the rest of the pizza to whomever asks for it;" be you instead of the whomever ask for it. Sorry for asking the stupid question, but I am not a native English speaker, so...
    – James
    Aug 26, 2022 at 16:34
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    You is the subject of give, but whomever is the subject of asks in the subordinate clause. Every tensed verb hasta have a subject, and it can't be whomever or whom or him. You gotta look at more than words in a row -- find the clauses, one per verb. Aug 26, 2022 at 16:46
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    Each clause has its own structure, like the liver inside the body. That's not a good characterization for whomever and whoever. I already told you the rule -- don't use them if you don't understand them, and stop looking for a magic rule that will explain everything. They're dying words and they just cause trouble; avoid them. Aug 26, 2022 at 17:16

2 Answers 2

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[1] Give the pizza to [who(m)ever asks for it].

[2] Harry should give the award to [who(m)ever he thinks deserves it.

In [1] both forms sound a little weird, because the construction imposes competing but unsatisfiable requirements: the pronoun must be nominative "whoever" because it's the subject of "asks", but it must be accusative "whomever" because it's the object of the preposition "to", and it can't be both, so you have a quandary. There's no way to get out of the quandary: you have to infringe one condition or the other. English is not well designed in this respect!

In [2] there is no such problem. The whole noun phrase (bracketed) and the relativised element are objects (of the preposition "to" and the verb "deserves", respectively) and accusative case "whomever" is fully acceptable though somewhat formal in style. No one would criticise you for using nominative "whoever" here.

The conclusion is that "whoever" is preferable in [1], and either "whoever" or formal "whomever" is fine in [2].

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  • Thanks for your answer. Sometimes, english is pretty confusing :/, but your explanation do help me to better understand it. Thanks!
    – James
    Aug 29, 2022 at 16:42
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    In [1], your argument that 'the pronoun ... must be accusative "whomever" because it's the object of the preposition "to"' is invalid. The object of "to" is the whole noun phrase "whoever asks for it". So, after all, there are no competing but unsatisfiable requirements.
    – Rosie F
    Feb 4, 2023 at 7:49
  • @RosieF The point is that in [1] accusative "whomever" is head of the NP "whomever asks for it".
    – BillJ
    Feb 4, 2023 at 9:44
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The two sentences don't have an exactly similar structure. In your example, whomever is the object of the 'small clause' - (the one whom Harry thinks deserves it). In the exercise, who[m] is the object of the main sentence, but it becomes the subject of the clause (the one who asks for it).

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  • The Harry example is also wrong because it should be who deserves it.
    – tchrist
    Aug 26, 2022 at 12:04
  • Thanks for your answer. It is a little bit clear for me know. But still one question, isn't the subject for the sentence "Give the rest of the pizza to whomever asks for it;" you instead of whoever ask for it??
    – James
    Aug 26, 2022 at 16:33
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    @James yes, and the object is the entire phrase "whoever asks for it." And the subject of "whoever asks for it" is "whoever".
    – Esther
    Aug 26, 2022 at 17:25

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