Sunday, June 24, 2007

readers, help: is it who or whom?

Elsewhere, the editor of Skeptic magazine—[who(m)?] you might expect to be a tough sell—called Born to Rebel ”the most rigorously scientific work of history ever written” (Shermer 1996, p. 63)
(Yes, this means I am up in my office writing late on a Saturday night. I've never had much pretense to a life. I guess I will admit to feeling a little pathetic--not, though, because of being up at the office working, but because I'm listening to INXS while I'm here.)


wrigleyfield said...

To be technically correct, I believe it should be "whom" (you'd say that you expect 'him,' not 'he,' to be a tough sell).

Spoken, though, I think this would sound a little funny coming from most people. (Then again, I hardly ever use "whom," so maybe that's just me.)

Ang said...

I'm with wrigleyfield. I think it's whom.

Sarahliz said...

I was going to say who but then I looked online. If I'm not mistaken, it's whom because it's an object not a subject. Of course I still feel rather insecure posting a response since virtually all my grammar skills are either self-taught or informally learned. When I was 14 my cousin made fun of me at lunch one day until I figured out for myself when to use good and when to use well.

eszter said...

I somehow doubt you're interested in my opinion on this one here, but I'll give it anyway.:) To echo what Wrigleyfield said, if it's "him" then it's "whom" and since you'd say (right?) that you'd expect him to be a tough sell not he to be a tough sell, it should be whom. And Sarahliz has the more grammatically-based explanation (object vs subject).

I'll send a note to your most grammar-savvy reader to see if he'd be willing to comment on this thread (unless he's Wrigleyfield and already has:).

And to clarify: what if Jeremy needs this for written not for spoken English?:)

Daniel said...

"Whom." It's the object of the verb in the clause set off by dashes. That's why wrigleyfield and eszter are right to suggest the parallel with "him" (object, thus "whom" substitutes) and "he" (subject, hence "who" substitutes).

In all such matters, the best possible guidance is that provided by Bryan Garner's Modern American Usage (2003). (This is the second edition of Garner's A Dictionary of Modern American Usage, 1998.) Those who write for a living want to own this book.

But eszter is also right to worry that in oral discourse, "whom" might sound awkward, because one naturally expects a subject in that position: "The editor--who is a nice person--called that book rigorous." "Whom" is thus a bit jarring here, even if correct.

Maybe William Safire was right: "When whom is correct, recast the sentence." :)

Daniel said...

Just to clarify: When I wrote "'Whom' is thus a bit jarring here, even if correct," the "here" was meant to refer to Jeremy's sentence, in which (to my ear) "whom" seems a little off. And the reason I think "whom" sounds off-key in Jeremy's sentence is that at that location, a reader is likely to expect a "who" (as in a sentence such as "The editor--who is a nice person--called that book rigorous," a sentence in which "who" is correct).

riddiculus said...

both are correct. "whom" is perfectly fine as an object pronoun in contemporary english. says who? say i - plus all linguists i know, including the authors of the cambridge grammar of the english language.