Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: who; whom (4).

who; whom (4). Today: The Discussion Continues. On the subject of the nominative “whom”: William Safire takes an interesting approach for those who fear seeming pedantic (by using “whom”) or being incorrect (by using “who” for “whom”): “When ‘whom’ is correct, recast the sentence.” “On Language,” N.Y. Times, 4 Oct. 1992, § 6, at 12. Thus “Whom do you trust?” becomes, in a political campaign, “Which candidate do you trust?” The relative pronoun “that” can also substitute in many situations. For those who hesitate over these questions of case, this approach might seem quite sensible. But one commentator, Steven Pinker, calls Safire’s suggestion an “unacceptable pseudo-compromise.” The Language Instinct 389 (1994). And Pinker has a point: “Telling people to avoid a problematic construction sounds like common sense, but in the case of object questions with ‘who,’ it demands an intolerable sacrifice. People ask questions about the objects of verbs and prepositions a lot.” Ibid. Moreover, a phrase such as “which person” is wordier and slightly narrower than “who” or “whom.” So realistically, we’re stuck with the continuing struggle between “who” and “whom.” Perhaps the most sensible approach was the one taken by Robert C. Pooley in 1974: “Considering the importance some people place on mastery of [the textbook rules for ‘whom’], the schoolbooks may be justified in distinguishing the case forms for the relative pronouns for literary usage. But to insist that these literary and formal distinctions be made in informal writing and speech as necessary to achieve ‘correctness’ is to do violence to the readily observed facts of current usage.” The Teaching of English Usage 72 (2d ed. 1974). Language-Change Index — “whom” misused as a subject: Stage 1. Next: “Who: in Reference to Nonhumans. For information about the Language-Change Index click here. Quotation of the Day: “The real reason for good usage in writing is that if you do not achieve it, your educated reader will be thinking of you, not of the point you’re trying to make.” John W. Velz, professor of English from 1954 to 1996.
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