0

I am doing some proofreading and have a question. In the following line of a poem, should it be who or whom? It's talking about monsters and the fact that they have a lot of options as to who they choose to eat so they can grow larger.

The line:

So many decisions of who to choose so they can grow,

3
  • 3
    Monsters, and poets, have free rein to break rules. Proofreading a poem is one thankless task. Commented Oct 26, 2022 at 13:55
  • "Limitations are deadening; to limit oneself is a form of suicide;, to limit another is a form of murder; to limit poetry is a Hiroshima of the human spirit. DANGER! RADIATION!" - T. Robbins Commented Oct 26, 2022 at 15:36
  • 1
    @JohnLawler There are pros and cons in this philosophy: I am being reminded of a columnist who once wrote, in contradiction to William Cowper, that variety is the spice of death.
    – LPH
    Commented Oct 26, 2022 at 16:28

3 Answers 3

3

Both are correct most of the time but "whom" is formal. In the words of CoGEL (1985 edition, § 6.35), whom can be avoided altogether in informal style.

When the pronoun follows a preposition and that it is a prepositional complement the form "whom" is more regularly used. Fot instance, you say normally

  • "This is the person who you spoke to.",

but

  • "This is the person to who you spoke."

is not correct (unacceptable in British English).

In the words of CoGEL (1985 edition, § 6.35), the reason is that there is a stylistic incompatibility between the preposition + relative pronoun construction (to whom), which is rather formal, and the use of who rather than whom as prepositional complement (who … to), which is informal.

However, your sentence is not of the sort discussed above; "who" is not the prepositional complement of "of", instead "whom to choose so they can grow" is. Consequently, "who" is a possibility, albeit the style will be informal.

  • So many decisions of who to choose so they can grow

Formal

  • So many decisions of whom to choose so they can grow
4
  • Broadly speaking I agree with this, but strictly speaking I'm pretty certain pedants wouldn't accept your first example This is the person who you spoke to. The "formal rules" are unaffected by the fact of moving the preposition to the end of the utterance. It's just that in practice we've tended to abandon whom in almost all contexts except those where it's immediately preceded by to. But to true grammarians, it should be This is the person who you spoke to. Commented Oct 26, 2022 at 18:10
  • @FumbleFingers Well, you invoke true grammar, but what do you think about this ngram, admitting you consider as true actual usage?
    – LPH
    Commented Oct 26, 2022 at 18:31
  • I think that chart confirms my point. In Victorian times, "strict grammar" was more rigorously applied, so it was nearly always whom you spoke to, not who. In principle the who/whom distinction is only determined by whether it's subject or object. But in practice that's too complicated a rule for most ordinary people, so they just decide on the basis of whether the relative pronoun is preceded by preposition to or not. So people almost always get it "right" so long as they avoid allowing the preposition to be moved to the end of the utterance... Commented Oct 27, 2022 at 11:10
  • ...see this chart showing that if it's re-sequenced to to whom you spoke, the "incorrect" version to who you spoke is so rare it doesn't even figure on the usage chart. Commented Oct 27, 2022 at 11:12
1

Who is a relative pronoun that works much like a subjective pronoun. On the other hand, Whom is a relative pronoun that works much like an objective pronoun. They mean the same thing and it is just a technicality. Using who in spoken English is fine.

To make it simpler, I always suggest students replace who or whom by he or him. If the word him is appropriate, then whom, otherwise who.

Examples:

Who picks whom. -> He picks him. You sent the messages to whom. -> You sent the messages to him.

There are exceptions, but in general you should use whom after prepositions:

The children to whom I gave the toys. Who is behind whom? At whom are you mad? With whom did you go out? More commonly Spoken -> Who did you go out with?

Hope that helps!

0

So many decisions whom to choose so they can grow

or

So many decisions, whom to choose so they can grow

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.