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7 Comments

  • Whom is also much more frequent in writing than in speech – intuitively obvious, but I’m sure you’ve got statistics to support this assertion, Michael. It’s certainly borne out by the analysis in the Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English.
    I’m not surprised that whom is on the decline. It’s a vestige of the Old English declension system, and probably destined for oblivion.
    Advice for learners, I suppose, should include the caveat: “But if you’re thinking of taking an exam, try to find out what usage the examiners regard as acceptable.”

  • One place where ‘whom’ still holds its own is in the expression ‘To whom it may concern’, used at the top of formal communications where the identity of the recipient is unknown or irrelevant. There are nearly 5 million hits for this on Google. Apparently it is also the title of albums by Lisa Marie Presley and the Bee Gees. Who knew, as they say (but to whom?)

  • The Scots seems to use “whom” quite easily. I always have to think about it, and mostly don’t use it speaking, but I have often wondered why it is that it is so intuitive to identify object and subject when I’m talking about I/me, we/they, or him/he, but not with who/whom.

  • […] Above all, grammar is not about the made-up rules which prescriptivists are so fond of (and which Gwynne’s book, for example, is awash with). The mistake lies in confusing rules with norms or conventions. The use of should with first person subjects and would with the rest (‘I should like’ … vs ‘you/they would like’) was indeed a norm for many years. But conventions change over time, and the evidence of usage shows that this distinction is rarely observed now. No-one could argue that the clarity of a speaker’s message is affected by this change, so to say it is ‘wrong’ to break this rule is irrational. Similarly, anyone asking ‘Whom did you invite to your party?’ (in any but the most formal context) would invite ridicule now, even if this was once quite normal. (The use of whom, except in certain specific constructions, is in long-term decline.) […]