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What's the rule for using “who” or “whom”?

I believe the following sentence is correct, but am slightly unsure as it sounds a bit clunky - plus, the irony of it being incorrect would be unbearable.

"Thank you to Bill and Ted, whom I'll never be able to thank in person but without whom my education would not have been possible."

  • 6
    It's correct. It's also clunky. Commented Sep 1, 2012 at 23:13
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    I don't think it's actually clunky - structures that repeat words for effect have a long tradition in rhetoric.
    – Marthaª
    Commented Sep 1, 2012 at 23:32
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    Yeah, but any use of whom is formal, and pronouns are supposed to be practically inaudible -- just a pointer to the noun, then get out of the way, nothing to see here. Doubling a formal pronoun calls attention to a word that should not be called attention to. Commented Sep 2, 2012 at 0:25
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    It is neither incorrect nor clunky. If you insist on saying this all in one sentence, then the sentence that you have exhibited is the grammatically correct way of saying it.
    – user16269
    Commented Sep 2, 2012 at 0:54
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    It's been said before, but worth repeating. 'Whom' was invented to make us all sound like butlers. Commented Sep 2, 2012 at 7:26

2 Answers 2


It's correct, but whom is formal and in modern speech can sometimes sound overly formal, especially when repeated.

As the Guardian style guide editor says:

It's true that when they speak most people don't use "whom", and with good reason: it would make them sound like pompous twerps ("to whom do I owe the pleasure?"). Written English, however, is a different matter – and not just because people write angry letters when you get it wrong.

From the comments, some people don't find it clunky, others including you and me do. Therefore I suggest rewording it or using who, particularly for speech, and arguably also when written.

This applies to British English, and I believe also to others.

  • I agree and would even take this a step further to say: don't use "whom". Save it for poetry. 'Whom' is a holier-than-thou thing to say, anymore. In fact, try to avoid saying anything the Creoles don't say. Some say words like 'color' are bastardized English. Others will argue, and much more eloquently, I feel, that this kind of word is the result of segregation and classism. The international community seems to lean towards American English in its standards. It's easier, it's humbler, and it incorporates a more racially diverse population, which is what 'Lingua Franca' is all about. Commented Sep 2, 2012 at 8:20

Why not make it simple?

Thank you to Bill and Ted. I'll never be able to thank them in person. But without them, my education would not have been possible.

[Purists may resist starting a sentence with the conjunction "But". If you are of that school, you could use a comma instead of a period.]

  • 'sOK ... Little x when you move your cursor over the grey 8 mins ago (or whatever it is when you read this) after your name. The wastebasket is the writer's best friend. - Isaac Bashevis Singer Commented Sep 2, 2012 at 0:49

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