Who versus Whom is such a thing. When you learn English as a second language at school, you are taught that the object form of ‘who’ is ‘whom’. The proud advanced English learners will
use throw their ‘whom’ at whoever is willing to listen. Or was that whomever? No, I don’t think so…
Anyway, the matter isn’t made easier by those privileged English-as-their-native-tongue speakers’ and writers ‘ seemingly random use and neglect of whom, substituting it with “who”, and with “that”.
I always flinch when I see people write, “Charlie, the guy that sold me the car, has a new bike.” I’ve learned (cough, or let’s say that I remember I’ve learned) that you use “that” when you refer to a thing, and “who” when you refer to a person. The Grammar Girl says that too, but also points out exceptions. Who wants to mess with Chaucer, after all? But she also says, that the above rule is always good when you want to be on the safe side. So, that’s probably what I’ll continue to do, but maybe I can teach myself not to flinch any more when I see how someone refers to a person with “that.”
Why do I waffle about this, whom do I want to impress?
Last week I read on dailywritingtips.com that my beloved “whom” is on the way out. (I would have reblogged that article, but whoever is in charge there won’t let me.)
The object form whom is in the natural process of disappearing from English.
In its entry for the word, the OED defines whom as “the objective case of who,” but notes that it is “no longer current in natural colloquial speech.”
In all but the most formal writing and speech, the use of whom has become a sore point with many speakers.
Sniff. I cry now.
The Penguin Writer’s Manual acknowledges that whom “is being increasingly relegated to very formal use in modern English, especially in questions.” It gives this perspective on a recent DWT discusssion, the tendency to substitute that for who or whom when introducing an adjective clause:
Many people would argue that if the man who I saw yesterday is grammatically incorrect, the man whom I saw yesterday sounds pedantic, and it is better to say the man that I saw yesterday or, simply, the man I saw yesterday.
Crying some more. Are you as confused as I (or is that me? Who is confused? No, I am the subject, aren’t I? Oh dear… )–if you are, go and read the whole article. Daily Writing Tips is always an interesting read.
What would we non-native speakers (and writers) do without a good beta reader? We’d be toast. Which reminds me, it’s my beta reader and friend’s birthday on Friday. I shall write a homage to her. To who?