The corresponding interrogative pronouns for non-sentient beings are what and which, and the relative pronouns are that and which. That and which are sometimes used in contexts where who might be a more suitable choice, and who is likewise used in contexts where that or which would be a more suitable choice. In addition, the possessive version of the non-sentient pronouns is the same as that of who: whose takes this role for all of them. E.g., "I will have to fix the car whose engine I ruined".
|English grammar series|
Traditionally, who is the subjective (nominative) form only. According to traditional prescriptive grammar, who is a subjective pronoun (subject of the side clause), and whom is the corresponding objective and dative pronoun (an object of the side clause). Whose is the possessive form, which is sometimes confused with who's, a contraction of who is or who has. See also: English declension.
The form who is replacing whom in objective case contexts. As early as the 1970s, the who–whom distinction was identified as having "slipped so badly that [it is] almost totally uninformative" (Wanner & Maratsos 1978). According to the OED (2nd edition, 1989), whom is "no longer current in natural colloquial speech". Lasnik & Sobin 2000 argue that surviving occurrences of whom are not part of ordinary English grammar, but the result of extra-grammatical rules for producing "prestige" forms.
Whom remains in significant use following a preposition (see examples immediately below). In informal contexts, the preposition may instead be placed at the end (see preposition stranding), and the word who may be omitted where it is used as a relative pronoun. For example:
Whom is the form used when it is the object of a preposition. Again, this is analogous to personal pronouns, for which the objective form is also used after a preposition. For example:
Forms with who in which the preposition does not immediately precede the pronoun are commonly judged acceptable in everyday use, and in spoken use especially:
However, this form often violates the (separately controversial) rule against ending a sentence with a preposition,
The indirect object is normally formed with to, so is generally just a particular example of the usage with prepositions (to whom). In some situations, whom can also be used by itself to represent the indirect object. However, this is only really used in contexts where the direct object is omitted:
In fact, the following is normally considered acceptable in everyday use, especially in speech:
Where the direct object is expressed, to is generally included, even where an analogous sentence using a personal pronoun might use the pronoun as the indirect object:
When the to does not immediately precede the pronoun, either who or whom is generally considered acceptable:
According to traditional grammar and guides to usage, the relative pronouns who(m)ever and who(m)(so)ever take the case appropriate to their internal clause:
Whoever is in the nominative because it is the subject of undertakes in the noun clause whoever undertakes...
Whoever is in the nominative because it is the subject of is in the relative clause whoever is without sin (compare: he [or she] is without sin).
In this case, whomever is used:
The accusative form whomever is right, because it is the object of meet within the internal clause Whomever you meet there (compare: you meet her [or him]), while the whole phrase whomever you meet there (rather than simply whomever) is the subject of is in the whole sentence.
Usage is variable, however: whomever is often employed and defended where the rules given above would require whoever, just as whom is often used as the subject of a verb in more complex situations (see next section).
A special problem arises in constructions like this:
The form given with who is safe, and even beyond reproach (since who is the subject of was). Nevertheless, many use and defend “whom” in such a sentence. The use of whom may arise from confusion with a form like this, in which whom is used according to the standard rules:
It may be unclear whether the clause whom you believe a great composer should follow the rules for you believe him to be a great composer (taking objective case) or you believe that he is a great composer (taking the subjective).
The Washington Post's original article "correctly" had who students said, but The Age altered this as a matter of house style to whom students said. (The continuation with the parallel construction who stood apart illustrates how The Age style can lead to inconsistencies.)
Even the King James Bible has the problematic whom as a subject at least six times, and has been much censured for it:
(Technically, ye is the subject associated with the verb say in But whom say ye that I am? and I is the subject associated with the verb am. Who[m] is a subject complement, as it would be in Who am I? or I am who? It is not an object complement.)
There are similar examples in Shakespeare:
Daniel Defoe also uses subject whom, here apparently affected by the proximity of him:
In this case, who[m] is the subject of had been dead.