Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: who; whom (3).

who; whom (3). Today: The Nominative “whom.” Among the toughest contexts in which to get the pronouns right are those involving linking verbs. We say, for example, “who it is” for the same reason we say “This is he,” but some very good writers have nodded. In any event, “whom” shouldn’t be used as the subject of any finite verb — e.g.: o “The distinguished political and social philosopher Russell Kirk used the word ‘energumen’ to describe . . . whom [read ‘who’] it is I agitate against.” William F. Buckley, The Jeweler’s Eye 284 (1969). (“Who” is needed as the inverted subject of “is”: “it is who,” as in “it is he.”) o “Police went to several addresses looking for a 17-year-old whom [read ‘who’] they thought was staying with his aunt.” Phillip Matier et al., “S.F.’s ‘Dirty Dozen’ Teenagers Elude Police Trackers,” S.F. Chron., 20 Apr. 1994, at A15. (“Who” is needed as the subject of “was.”) o “In the other corner are the anti-Stratfordians, the heretics and conspiracy theorists of literature, most of them devoted amateurs whose dogged sleuthing and amassing of evidence (albeit mostly circumstantial) continues to enlarge the body of contention that Shakespeare wasn’t himself. But if not he, then whom [read “who”]?” Don Oldenburg, “Shakespeare’s Raging Identity Crisis,” Wash. Post, 17 May 1994, at C5. (“Who” is needed in a parallel phrasing with “he.”) o “The phrase ‘natural-born citizen’ should be given a meaning consistent with our transcendent right to select those whom [read ‘who’] we believe are most fit to govern.” Michael I. Meyerson, “Citizen McCain,” N.Y. Times, 17 July 2008, at A23. (“Who” is needed as the subject of “are.”) Next: The Discussion Continues. For information about the Language-Change Index click here. Quotation of the Day: “The fewer the words that can be made to convey an idea, the clearer and the more forceful that idea.” David Lambuth et al., The Golden Book on Writing 20 (1964).
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