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October 7, 2011

When I was doing my PGCE at Swansea, back in the mid-eighties, I remember being told very confidently by an English lecturer that ‘whom’ would soon disappear in writing, as it had already virtually disappeared in speech; and at the time I saw no reason to doubt it. The prediction, however, proved very wrong; the use of ‘whom’ in print seems to be growing. Except that it’s often used wrongly, by people who have only a hazy idea of the rules for when to use it but think it sounds posh.

A common misusage is the following: ‘.. Sir Damien Egghurst, whom I believe is a man of the highest integrity…’ This stems from a mix-up with the ‘accusative infinite’ form, which I learned in Latin as a schoolboy: ‘…Sir Damien Egghurst, whom I believe to be a man of the highest integrity..’

It is easy to see which is correct by de-relativising the sentences: ‘I believe him to be a man of the highest integrity.’ Yes, fine. ‘I believe him is a man of the highest integrity”. No, no, no! But so common has this misusage become that a sub at the Independent actually ‘corrected’ a sentence of mine a few months ago, changing ‘who’ to ‘whom’ and making me apparently guilty of it.

Recently I spotted a much weirder use of ‘whom’, also in the Indie. Sam Wallace on the sports pages offered the following strange construction: ‘There is no other major footballer who has fitted less simply into the England team and yet whom, on the face of it, has so much to offer’. Why ‘whom’? Was it to try to offer some idea of contrast with the previous ‘who’? Or was it because the word precedes a vowel (there does seem to be a misguided idea that ‘who’ needs protecting from vowels)? And whatever the reason, why didn’t a sub correct it? Actually, I shouldn’t be too quick to judge Sam Wallace; if my own experience is a guide, perhaps he correctly wrote ‘who’ and then an officious sub came along and hyper-corrected it to ‘whom’.

So it doesn’t look as if ‘whom’ is going to lie down and die any time soon. But I’m beginning to think it would be preferable if it did.

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One Comment
  1. This article is awarded a 2 thumbs up from me.

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