Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: whoever; whomever.

whoever; whomever. Here’s the traditional rule about the nominative “whoever” and the objective “whomever.” If the word that completes the syntax after “-ever” is a verb, the correct choice is “whoever” {they praise whoever performs well} — even if there are a few intervening words {whoever, under these conditions, can deliver the goods on time will win the contract}. If the word that syntactically follows the “-ever” isn’t a verb, the correct choice is “whomever” {he criticizes whomever he dislikes} — once again, even if there are a few intervening words {we’ll help whomever among the class members the teachers recommend}. If you’re unsure of the correct word, choose “whoever”; even when the objective “whomever” would be strictly correct, the “whoever” is at worst a casualism (in other words, not bad except in formal contexts). Like “who” and “whom,” this pair is subject to more than occasional hypercorrection — e.g.: “Both teams want to run, so whomever [read ‘whoever’] controls the boards and doesn’t throw the ball away too much will win.” David Dupree, “Western Conference Semifinals Analysis,” USA Today, 6 May 1992, at C8. You can always be sure that the form *”whomever’s” is wrong. If it’s intended as a possessive form, it’s wrong for “whosever”; if it’s intended as a contraction of “whomever is,” then the objective form “whomever” is wrongly acting as the subject of “is.” Yet this poor form often appears. Notice that in the following sentence, “whomever” looks like an object of a preposition or verb, but in fact it’s simply part of a noun clause that should function as an object — e.g.: “You can trust whomever’s [read ‘whoever’s’] behind the turntables.” Eric Brace, “Deepflyte, House with ‘Nooks and Crannies,'” Wash. Post, 9 Aug. 2002, at T6. The slightly less common error is to make *”whomever’s” a possessive, where “whosever” (traditionally) should appear. If you’re going to be formal enough to use a form of “whom,” though, it’s probably better to stick to “whosever” — e.g.: “Whomever’s [read Whosever] team wins in football has to play bailiff in open court for a day.” Julie Kay, “Hot-Tempered Broward Circuit Judge May Have a Lot of Enemies,” Miami Daily Bus. Rev., 27 Mar. 2002, at 1. *Invariably inferior form. For information about the Language-Change Index click here. Quotation of the Day: “Most readers (including you) know when your concluding paragraph is merely a pro forma bundle of words; use the conclusion to show the reader there is a thinking mind behind those words.” Jeanne F. Campanelli & Jonathan L. Price, Write in Time 113 (1991).
Scroll to Top