Friday, January 16, 2009
Does "Whom" Still Exist?
After a winter holiday, the Grammar Gang is back! We want to poll our readers and ask whether the word "whom" still has a place in their everyday vocabulary. Do you still use, or perhaps hear others using, the relative/interrogative pronoun "whom?" Or do the people who use "whom" all sound like nineteenth-century Victorians who just stepped out of a time machine?
What is the word "whom" anyway, and how should you use it?
"Whom" is a pronoun that always refers to a person. You would never use "whom" to refer to your pet rock or your most recent video game purchase. Secondly, "whom" provides a signal that the person in question is the direct object of the verb. In other words, whomever (see!) the "whom" refers to is receiving the action of the verb (not performing the action). As my German 102 instructor once said, the direct object is the thing that is being verbed.
"Whom" can function as a relative pronoun or an interrogative pronoun. Though the names of these words may sound scary, they stand for a group of words that you probably use everyday. The relative pronoun introduces additional information about someone or something. There are specific relative pronouns:
who, whom, that, which, whose, where, when, and why
The name, relative pronoun, comes from the type of clause that it introduces, namely the relative clause. These clauses are subordinate clauses (i.e. cannot stand alone as complete sentences), and they provide additional information about someone or something. Here are two examples:
The man, who is standing in the corner, is my father.
The boy, whom the teacher told to go outside, is crying.
There are many questions surrounding relative clauses at the moment. Some of them have to do with punctuation (to comma or not to comma), and some of them have to do with the pronouns themselves, such as whether you can use "that" to refer to a person. For more on relative clauses, you can visit the materials published by the OWL here: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/645/01/
So, who will answer this post? And to whom shall I reply?