Friday, December 26, 2014

Whom confusion

Doing a Google site search of TripAdvisor the other day, I noticed that on the first search page for 'the person whom', this expression was used more often to refer to the subject than to the object, in other words incorrectly, in structures like this:
  • She is the woman whom runs the hotel.
Which should of course be:
  • She is the woman who/that runs the hotel.
I know whom causes problems, but I hadn't realised quite to what an extent.
So I decided to try with a couple of other similar expressions, and compare with Facebook and Twitter.
I realise that many of the contributors to these sites are non-native speakers, and in no way do I want to mock anyone by quoting them, whether English is their first or second language, and I have nothing but respect for people who make the effort to write in a language other than their own. I just want to point out the dangers of using whom unless you really know what you're doing.

A quick reminder of the rules

In sentences like these, which include defining (or restrictive) relative clauses (in darker blue):
  • we use who (or that) to begin the relative clause when talking of a person:
    • She is the woman who/that spoke to us yesterday. (subject)
    • They're the people (who/that) we saw at the marina. (direct object)
    • He's the man (who/that) I was talking about. (object of preposition)
  • we use which (or that) when talking about anything else:
    • That's the car which/that won the race. (subject)
    • This is just the sort of situation (which/that) I wanted to avoid. (direct object)
    • I found that book (which/that) I was looking for. (object of preposition)
  • When the relative pronoun refers to the direct object or the object of a preposition, it can be left out:
    • They're the people we saw at the marina. (direct object)
    • I found that book I was looking for. (object of preposition)
  • In a very formal style we can use whom for people when the relative pronoun refers to the direct object or object of a preposition, but not when it refers to the subject. However, this is never necessary, as we can use who/that or omit the pronoun altogether, and native speakers very rarely use whom in these constructions.
  • The only exception is if the relative pronoun follows a preposition, and we usually avoid having to use whom by putting the preposition at the end (known as preposition stranding) - 'Who did you speak to?' (more natural than 'To whom did you speak?'

Tip - never use whom immediately before a verb

If you must use whom, never use it when the relative pronoun is followed immediately by a verb, as the relative pronoun can only be referring to the subject:
  • She is the woman who/that runs the hotel.
  • She is the woman whom runs the hotel.

The breakdown

TripAdvisorFacebookTwitterTotal
the person whom - object410519
the person whom - subject60511
the woman whom - object57618
the woman whom - subject53311
the man whom - object15511
the man whom - subject74516
Total - object10221648
Total - subject1871338
Total - indirect1113
Total - ambiguous11
Percentage subject60235342
So in these examples at least, and there's no way to know whether these figures are at all representative, in around 42% of instances (rising to 60% at TripAdvisor), whom is being used to refer to the subject, and therefore is being used incorrectly.

Comments

I can only assume that a lot of people think that whom is simply a more formal version of who, and are unaware of the subject / object difference (I seem to remember having seen such a suggestion in forums).
But why bother with whom at all? Except in formal writing, whom is never necessary. We can nearly always use who, which is in any case more natural. And if the relative pronoun is followed by a noun or pronoun (in other words, it refers to the object), we can simply leave it out altogether - 'He is the man I love' (nobody says, let alone sings, the man whom I love).
Even when whom was being used correctly in these examples, it was never necessary. In none of these examples does whom follow a preposition, so it could have been omitted in every instance.
Most native speakers use whom rarely in conversation. And if you do use it without really knowing the rules, the risk of getting it wrong seems from these figures to be rather high.

Some random thoughts on indirect structures

I've signalled three examples as being indirect structures:
  • The man whom I assume is the owner of the establishment is very rude
  • ... is the man whom I think is totally mine
  • to the woman whom I'm sure will be my step-mother one day
Conventional wisdom says that whom is incorrect here, and that who is necessary because, as I understand it, the relative pronoun's function as the subject of the underlined section outweighs any need for the reporting clause (assume, think, be sure - in darker blue) to have an object. And we would certainly need who (or that) if we took away the reporting clause:
  • The man who/that is the owner of the establishment is very rude
  • ... is the man who/that is totally mine
  • to the woman who/that will be my step-mother one day
This use of whom here is often called hypercorrection. But there is a bit of a difference of opinion here, and not everyone agrees that it is in fact an error. For example, the relative pronoun can be omitted, which usually applies to whom but not to who when it refers to the subject.
  • The man I assume is the owner of the establishment is very rude
  • ... is the man I think is totally mine
  • to the woman I'm sure will be my step-mother one day
But again, whom is probably best avoided.

The examples

I've taken the first ten examples of each expression, except where there was repetition. Of the three sites I looked at, TripAdvisor is where incorrect use of whom is most evident. I've replaced names with an X.
I didn't include what were obviously biblical quotes, and references to a certain Ian Doyle, a singer who goes by the name of 'The Man Whom'.
Examples of whom being incorrectly used to refer to the subject are underlined.

At Tripadvisor.co.uk

Totals

  • Refers to object - 10
  • Refers to subject - 18
  • Indirect structure - 1
  • Ambiguous - 1

the person whom

  1. The person whom is staying at the room and i the person whom is holding the hotel card , both of us equally shocked
  2. Especially the person whom we had to deal with in ...
  3. Uncule Ji the person whom you will meet In Hotel Chail Residence
  4. The person whom takes care of the breakfast is ...
  5. The person whom wrote the report ...
  6. Then the person behind the desk insisted on speaking with the person whom I was sharing the room with
  7. The person whom was checking me in seemed somewhat perhaps uncomfortable on the checking in process
  8. ... kept blocking the access for the person whom had booked ...
  9. He is the person whom I gonna nominate for the best hospitality specialist in the world
  10. the person whom assisted me at the front desk was very helpful
  • Refers to object - 2, 3, 6, 9
  • Refers to subject - 1 (x2), 4, 5, 7, 8, 10

the woman whom

  1. the woman whom helped me was very nice
  2. Back at the hotel ... I met the woman whom Neil (knew?) nothing about
  3. The woman whom checked me in during the night shift was...
  4. I arrived with my Son and found a less than welcoming feeling procured by the Woman whom was running the restauraunt
  5. The woman whom I dated sayed that it is enjoyable , soft atmosphere like traweling in india.
  6. Finally I offered to buy two deck chairs for the man and the woman whom we "assaulted"
  7. The woman whom placed this review was renting rooms without my knowledge
  8. The woman whom we asked if we could sit anywhere we wanted did not reply.
  9. The woman whom we took to be the restaurant manager was hopeless
  10. the woman whom checked us out told us that ...
  • Refers to object - 2, 5, 6, 8, 9
  • Refers to subject - 1, 3, 4, 7, 10

the man whom

  1. The man whom supposedly cleaned the room need ...
  2. The man whom I assume is the owner of the establishment is very rude
  3. ... where I told the man (whom is suppose to be the manager)
  4. ... from the man whom insisted on pressing my trousers for me to ...
  5. the man whom poured the wines and the bread/cheese man were lovely
  6. this is the man whom should be running our great country.
  7. Overall, the man whom served us was an obnoxious, unfriendly excuse of a man!
  8. the mood of our server as well as the man whom brought out our food changed
  9. However the man whom first approached us came first and asked about our plans
  10. I asked for the man whom I had emailed
  • Refers to object - 10
  • Refers to subject - 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
  • Indirect structure - 2
  • Ambiguous - 3

At Facebook

Totals

  • Refers to object - 22
  • Refers to subject - 7
  • Indirect structure- 1

the person whom

  1. You may always not get the person whom u love the most.
  2. The person whom you loved the most is on Facebook
  3. Love does not betray, betrays the person whom you Love
  4. The person whom I love the most
  5. I Hate it When Others Flirt With the Person Whom i Like
  6. Love Hurts The Most When The Person Whom Yew Love, , Loves Someone Else
  7. It Feels Strange When The Person Whom You LOved Only Likes You
  8. I hate it when, the person whom Im cheating from, turns to next page
  9. It Rarely Hapends That The Person Whom U Love Have Same Feelings For You
  10. You're The Person Whom I've Loved since Before I Even Liked People
  • Refers to object - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

the woman whom

  1. To marry the woman whom i trully love
  2. Love The Food & The Woman Whom Makes It
  3. The woman whom I painted on the wall of my golden room
  4. The woman whom Allah heard above the seven heavens
  5. To the woman whom I owe everything to...
  6. Hi ~ to the woman whom makes jams and pickles
  7. The woman, whom Newsweek is not naming because she remains under cove
  8. ..the woman, whom he did not recognize, turned into his yard
  9. The woman whom I won the art piece for
  10. The story about the woman whom saved buddy from a field in California is very very touching!
  • Refers to object - 1, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9
  • Refers to subject - 2, 6, 10

the man whom

  1. is the man whom i think is totally mine
  2. The man whom i admire most
  3. Denzil the man whom never rocks the boat
  4. The man whom added 27 new photos.
  5. Narinder Singh Kapany : The man whom only a few know.
  6. The Man whom killed X
  7. The man whom you call a criminal, is also in pursuit of his happiness
  8. the man whom we all grew up with in
  9. What ever happened with the man whom did the DDs commercials
  10. Jade London, the man whom Valerian Ruminski disparaged on Facebook responded
  • Refers to object - 2, 5, 7, 8, 10
  • Refers to subject - 3, 4, 6, 9
  • Indirect structure - 1

At Twitter

Totals

  • Refers to object - 16
  • Refers to subject - 13
  • Indirect structure - 1

the person whom

  1. Would the person whom didth this step fowardth
  2. Happy birthday to the person whom inspires me the most every single day
  3. Ironically, the person whom you care about the most is ...
  4. ... is when the person whom u love loves u back.
  5. The person whom not only treats me like a princess
  6. It's not the person whom we really fall for but ...
  7. the person whom I will be able to see
  8. This is the person whom has stolen my phone
  9. The person whom X attacked
  10. Please have the person whom transferred them to you to cancel them
  • Refers to object - 3, 4, 6, 7, 9
  • Refers to subject - 1, 2, 5, 8, 10

the woman whom

  1. Hippolyta is the woman whom Anita Sarkeesian's detractors accuse Anita of being
  2. To the woman whom I love dearly and closest to my heart
  3. The Woman whom even God dreamed of, before the world was made.
  4. the woman whom is making some pieces for my cheshire the cat costume
  5. Funny how the woman whom you made feel like nothing can and will ...
  6. Don't Be the Woman whom I care About ...
  7. The woman whom I owe all in Life
  8. Meet The Woman Whom Despite Being 42 Is Back To Secondary School
  9. to the woman whom I'm sure will be my step-mother one day
  10. didn't the woman whom used to run the secret service write a novel?
  • Refers to object - 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7
  • Refers to subject - 4, 8, 10
  • Indirect structure - 9

the man whom

  1. Happy 66th Birthday to the man whom I am blessed to call my Father!
  2. The man whom recorded killing of X has been prosecuted
  3. The man whom with his fingers cheats
  4. the man whom martyred X
  5. The man ... whom every1 called d "GREATEST"
  6. I know and you know the man whom you are referring to
  7. The man, whom then urged the curbing of ...
  8. Going to enjoy reading about the man whom I named my son after
  9. 70 years ago today, the man whom many consider the greatest Celtic player, Jimmy Johnstone, was born in Viewpark.
  10. Today is dedicated to the man whom completed 11000km cycle from Cairo to CapeTown
  • Refers to object - 1, 5, 6, 8, 9
  • Refers to subject - 2, 3, 4, 7, 10

Related posts

WhomWatch

4 comments:

dwi shiren said...

How about the use of "whom" here?

Oh Sole God, beside Whom there is none.

Warsaw Will said...

Far be it for me to correct a piece of writing thousands of years old (and this translation is perhaps a hundred years old). But luckily I don't have to, as the use of 'whom' here is perfectly correct. 'Beside' is a preposition, and prepositions are followed by the object form (objective case), 'beside him / her / me / whom' etc.

Although in everyday English most of us try and avoid this by putting the preposition at the end - 'Who were you sitting beside?', that wouldn't work here (in a non-defining relative clause), and in any case this is poetry, and it sounds perfect just as it is.

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