6

As the title says.

WHO is a subject relative pronoun, and WHOM is an object relative pronoun.

I tried finding an answer to this on the site, but this sentence in particular is more challenging than something like "She's the woman whom I married." (I married her..."her" is the object of the sentence, so it's easy enough to say "Ah! This needs an object relative pronoun.")

I'm trying to reconfigure the sentence above in my mind to find the answer, but I'm having some issues. I feel the answer is "whom," but I'm not 100% on it at all.

"You're not the person who/whom I thought (that) you were" could be said as:

I thought (that) you were someone else.

I thought (that) you were a different type of person.

In these cases, even though the you is a subject pronoun (same as "he," "she," etc.), would it still count as being in the object position because "I thought about you (object pronoun) and thought you (subject pronoun) were a different person"?

There is the folksy (or perhaps a grammatically consistent and correct?) idea that if you can ask a question about a sentence and have the answer be an object pronoun (him, her, us, them, you as object), then you should use "whom." This also applies if you can recast the sentence to discover whether the noun in question can be replaced with a subject or object pronoun (as in the "She's the woman whom I married" = "I married her" example above).

But it doesn't seem to apply in this case. Or at least, I can't think of the question to reach the answer, or of a way which recontextualizes the original sentence so it's clear whether I should use "who" or "whom."

There is also the idea that if you can place a noun or pronoun after a verb, that noun or pronoun is an object and you should therefore use "whom" to refer back to it. ("She kicked him" = "He was the one whom she kicked.")

...unless the answer is actually "WHO"?

Thoughts? And yes, I realize that "who" is standard and accepted in the vast majority of English conversations, and that no one would bat an eyelash if someone used "who" in this case (or almost every case!), but I'm still curious about this one at a "technically correct" formal level, and not at a common usage level.

My apologies for the scattered thoughts.

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  • 1
    1. This will probably be considered a duplicate of 100s. 2. You could use that instead, esp. in this case. 2. Subject vs. object is determined within isolation of the clause it's in, not the sentence as a whole. 4. Not 100% sure I've understood everything you meant. Mar 17, 2023 at 15:12
  • @HippoSawrUs What would the two clauses be in this case? "You're not the person" and "Whom/Who I thought you were"? Or would "who/whom" be part of "You're not the person whom/who"? I've edited my original post for added clarity. Apologies for the word salad.
    – Alex
    Mar 17, 2023 at 16:10
  • 2
    You can reduce the sentence to "You're not the person I thought you were" and eliminate the issue. (-:
    – Jim Mack
    Mar 17, 2023 at 16:41
  • @JimMack I'm fully aware of that fact! :-D Just doing some (perhaps needless) grammar chopping for an online post that I'm writing on the subject of who/whom.
    – Alex
    Mar 17, 2023 at 16:48
  • 5
    I don't believe in closing questions as duplicates of closed questions. So, where does someone post a new, better, answer? THIS question shows effort, research and has a good insight. The older question consists of two lines and was rightly closed for lack of research.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 17, 2023 at 20:14

6 Answers 6

2

There is also the idea that if you can place a noun or pronoun after a verb, that noun or pronoun is an object and you should therefore use "whom" to refer back to it.

This is false, and your sentence provides an excellent example. The actual object of "thought" is the whole clause "(that) you were." Within that clause, the person under discussion (the "that") is a predicative complement, not an object, of "were." So, when you make it into a question, you would use "who," not "whom."

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  • The rule usually stated is that if an accusative form is used me/her/him/us/them, you can used whom. As a rule, pronouns functioning as PCs take accusative case in modern English for most speakers, and thus whom should be fine. Mar 17, 2023 at 16:06
  • 2
    @Araucaria-Nothereanymore. That's true of most speakers, but not in the rare formal contexts in which whom is still used.
    – alphabet
    Mar 17, 2023 at 16:41
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    In pedantic formal English--the kind where you use "whom"--you would say "you were he," not "you were him," hence the use of "who" rather than "whom."
    – alphabet
    Mar 18, 2023 at 22:00
  • 1
    @Araucaria-Nothereanymore. I have to say that first comment to you rather got up my nose as it is precisely in more formal contexts or ones with higher-register speakers that whom is used.
    – Lambie
    Mar 20, 2023 at 14:49
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    @Araucaria-Nothereanymore. OP is pretty clearly asking about using whom "correctly" in the formal-register way, given their concern about the details of correct pronoun substitution. It's possible that OP is asking exclusively about informal registers but I think it would be most reasonable to assume that they are asking about the formal use.
    – alphabet
    Mar 20, 2023 at 18:28
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H&P's The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (Pages 466-67) says that (in a certain dialect) whom is possible as the subject of a content clause embedded in a relative clause:

(e) Subject of an embedded content clause
...
Attested examples of relative whom are given in [39], where [i] represents the usual type with a tensed verb (thought), while [ii] has a plain-form verb in the mandative construction:

[39] i A man with a large waxed moustache and a mop of curly damp hair, whom Hal thought might be his uncle Fred, said, ‘That’s a fine bird you’re carving, Bert.’
ii It turns out that the woman, whom the police have asked not be identified, was a talented pianist and an unpublished writer.

Prescriptive grammarians commonly treat this whom as a hypercorrection: since the pronoun is in subject function, the argument goes, it should be nominative and the accusative is therefore incorrect, attributable to a concern to avoid the common ‘error’ of using nominative who in place of accusative whom. This is another place, however, where we believe it is invalid to talk in terms of hypercorrection. The accusative variant has a long history and is used by a wide range of speakers; examples are quite often encountered in quality newspapers and works by respected authors. It has to be accepted as an established variant of the standard language. Thus there are in effect two dialects with respect to the case of embedded subjects, though they are not distinguished on any regional basis. Dialect A, which selects nominative, has more speakers and is the one recommended by the manuals, but there is no reason to say that it is inherently better or more grammatically correct than Dialect B, which selects accusative: the dialects just have different rules.

Now, this is a little different from your example You're not the person whom I thought you were, where whom is not the subject but the predicative complement of a content clause embedded in a relative clause.

CGEL continues to hypothesize the reasoning behind these different dialects:

The alternation between who and whom can be attributed to the tension between the function of who with respect to the embedded content clause and its position in the relative clause. The two relevant factors are:

[40] i Who is subject of a finite content clause.
ii Who is in prenuclear position preceding the subject of the relative clause.

In Dialect A it is factor [i] that determines the case, as nominative, while in Dialect B [ii] is the determining factor, at least in formal style (and excluding the rather rare construction where who is in predicative complement function). In Dialect B the crucial distinction is therefore between relative clause subject and non-subject.

Dialect B is the dialect that allows the accusative in CGEL, so factor [ii] is the one we should be looking at to determine whether the same accusative is possible as the predicative complement of a content clause embedded in a relative clause. Because your example You're not the person whom I thought you were does satisfy factor [ii], I see no reason why whom cannot be allowed in Dialect B.

Having said all that, OP's particular construction with whom is extremely rare, although I was able to find one:

The more Brooke denies it, the more he will feel that she is not the person whom he thought she was.

(TV Season & Spoilers)

Somehow, the construction without the antecedent sounds more natural:

The woman he shot wasn’t whom he thought she was. (KGET)

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  • H&P clearly only intend for this to apply to the case where who/whom is the subject in an embedded clause, not to the case in which it is a predicative complement. They discuss the role of who/whom as a predicative complement earlier in the chapter and do not make an exception applying to subordinate clauses, as they do with subjects.
    – alphabet
    Mar 19, 2023 at 18:51
  • @alphabet If it's possible in a Subject it's clearly possible in a PC. If you look at the CaGEL description of when Dialect B speakers use whom, this is clearly one such case. Mar 20, 2023 at 15:36
  • + 1 There is at least a strong case that the general rule is actually the one attributed to dialect B speakers. People who use whom do so in variation with who (i.e. they'll often, if not usually, use who instead of whom). The rule for omitting the relative word altogether is the Dialect B rule and it shouldn't surprise us if the two were the same. Furthermore, Dialect A whom situations are a subset of Dialect B ones. There's no evidence Dialect A exists! Mar 20, 2023 at 15:37
  • @alphabet "They discuss the role of who/whom as a predicative complement earlier in the chapter" --> Could you be kind enough to give me the page numbers? I can't seem to figure out what section you're referring to.
    – JK2
    Mar 21, 2023 at 3:53
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Who is correct. Following the pattern you supplied . . .

It’s:
She’s the woman whom [I married her].

Not:
*She’s the woman who [I married she].

It’s:
You’re not the person who I thought that [you were he].

Not:
*You’re not the person whom I thought that [you were him].

I know what you’re going to say: “But you were he sounds wrong!” And you would be right about that. But there’s this “rule”: The pronouns on both sides of a linking verb (were, in this case) must be subject pronouns.

If you have more time on your hands, explore It is I vs. It is me.

You can see how uncommon whom [pronoun] thought [pronoun] [verb(be)] is by comparing these from the Corpus of Contemporary American English:

who PRON thought PRON _vb and whom PRON thought PRON _vb

However the preponderance of whos is likely not due to supreme grammar knowledge but rather to the decline in the use of whom in all but formal or academic contexts.

1
  • I've seen it suggested that you use objective pronouns for subject complements, e.g. in the Cambridge Dictionary link
    – user473438
    Mar 19, 2023 at 21:50
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First, this is a saying, which varies somewhat.

You're not the person that I thought you were.

You're not the person I thought you were.

You're not who I thought you were.

Also, "the person" in question is an idealized personality that doesn't exist anymore, technically. That could be splitting hairs, but relative clause lessons found online (BBC and British Council) do not even include whom as an option. They have plucked that word right out ('Finito!') of existence in that context.

That being said, onto the problem at hand: who vs. whom for illustrative purposes.

Sometimes it helps to see the clauses separated. Take the easier example first.

She's the woman (who/whom) I married.

She's the woman + I married [the woman] =
She's the woman (who/whom) I married [DO → objective case] =
She's the woman whom I married.

'She's the woman I married.'

Now for the example in question, which is harder to visualize (as intangibles would be):

You're not the person (who/whom) I thought you were.

You're not "the person" + I thought you were ["the person"] =
You're not the person (who/whom) I thought you were [PN → subjective/nominative] =
You're not the person who I thought you were.

'You're not the person I thought you were.'

This is just reconfiguring the sentences, as requested, in a fundamental way (see link below).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Relative_clause#Bound_and_free

British Council (basic information on current usage, omitting pronouns, etc.)

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  • "You're not who I thought you were" is not a relative clause but a fused relative construction, and a weird one too (because it doesn't require the ever suffix on who). Whom does not occur in fused relative constructions. (And so the BC aren't going to start recommending it in them). Secondly, the relative pronoun who in your last triple of examples, does not refer to the Subject you, but the missing predicative complement you, which if it had any visible case would be accusative, not nominative. Mar 20, 2023 at 14:13
  • @Araucaria-Nothereanymore. - 1. You're referring to the wrong sentence. 2. The BC doesn't even mention whom, period. 3. No one said who refers to you except you (you = "the person" means "the person" renames you, always). Mar 20, 2023 at 15:12
  • You indicate that the you under consideration is the one in the RC. There's no other sensible way of interpreting your example. Especially given the subjective/nominative case comment in brackets. Mar 20, 2023 at 15:33
  • @Araucaria-Nothereanymore. - I've edited, to make the 2nd step clearer, and added a relevant source. Again, who does not refer to you (who stands in for "the person" which happens to rename you). I headed each triplet with the sample sentence being dissected, for added clarity. Mar 22, 2023 at 21:48
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You could make your alternative examples more clear by using a pronoun that does have different subject and object forms.

Would you ever say this?

(*) He was not the person I thought him was.

Of course not. You're not even tempted to consider this "technically correct".

For the same reason, who and not whom is the correct pronoun in your example.

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  • Well, of course, because was (in both cases) takes a subject complement. But the sentence in the title is what is being asked about.
    – Andrew Leach
    Mar 17, 2023 at 18:00
-4

Please realize that the question of who vs whom has been asked in this stack before. This question is a duplicate of other existing questions.

A lot of modern Emglish gurnaths would profess (but not confess) that the word "whom" has largely been euthanized and archaicized, replaced by the word "who".

But old folks like me and being indoctrinated by an archaic British type of education, are not quite done with the word "whom" yet. I persist in using the word "whom" as it provides more precision about whom I am referencing.

It's quite simple: to see if you could substitute "who" with "me", "him", "her" or "them", then you would know if "whom" is appropriately placed.

  • To whom we give thanks, praise to Almighty Allah.
    • To him we give thanks, praise to Almighty Allah.
  • To whom we give thanks, as we venerate Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.
    • To them we give thanks, as we venerate Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.
  • To whom we give thanks, as our supplications to Jesus-god, father-god and spirit-god.
    • To them we give thanks, as supplications to Jesus-god, father-god and spirit-god.

I think modern folks should not abandon the understanding and familiarity with the concept of "dative" or "accusative".
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dative_case.

Roughly,

  • whom = recipient of action
  • who = perpetrator of action

Them, him, her, me - are dative targets.

  • Tell her to come home, as she needs to rest

    • To whom I want to come home, is one who also needs to rest.
  • I want her home that she need rest

    • Whom I want home, who also needs rest.
  • With them the Force will be, they are the salvation

    • With whom the Force will be, are those who are the salvation
  • That to him I am married, is not your concern.

    • That to whom I am married, is not your concern.

Let me refer you to the famous buffalo expression.

  • Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo bufallo Buffalo buffalo

Where the word buffalo also means "bully", and where the plural of words like buffalo, fish, deer are spelled the same as the singular, the expression about the city of Buffalo may be explained by

  • Buffalo cattle Buffalo deer bully, bully Buffalo fish.
  • Buffalo cattle whom Buffalo deer bully, they bully Buffalo fish.

Therefore,

  • Buffalo buffalo whom Buffalo buffalo buffalo, who in turn buffalo other Buffalo buffalo.

Without the use of the dative "whom", the explanation would not be quite as succint.

  • Buffalo buffalo who Buffalo buffalo buffalo, who in turn buffalo other Buffalo buffalo.
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  • It is unethical to downvote this answer for the reason of being religiously offended. Mar 19, 2023 at 10:38
  • 1
    No downvote from me, but the 2 downvotes were possibly cast because you explained how to use "whom" but you didn't answer the question. Should it be whom or who in the OP's statement? It seems you are advocating for whom, could you make that a little clearer in your answer, please?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 19, 2023 at 11:05
  • 2
    Downvote from me because your examples are ungrammatical.
    – Andrew Leach
    Mar 19, 2023 at 12:15
  • My attitude is to enlighten with rhe principle which should be used to draw the answer. Mar 19, 2023 at 20:34
  • Have this forun been invaded by novices who should be at English Learners ' stack? Mar 19, 2023 at 20:35

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