Saturday, July 26, 2008

Zwicky hears a who

Two articles at the Visual Thesaurus this week do a nice job of laying out the current status of the debate on using who vs. whom and the transition to a more nuanced "split" system.
  • John McIntyre, assistant managing editor in charge of desks at the Baltimore Sun: In conversation, who appears to have supplanted whom, almost universally. There is no going back. In formal writing, such as an academic paper or book, whom remains on its precarious perch. In middle-level discourse, such as journalism, which aims at a conversational tone while adhering to the conventions of standard written English, whom is slowly slipping away, and probably should.
  • Arnold Zwicky, widely quoted and respected linguist: Linguists looking at the actual practice of educated writers and speakers see that, for quite some time, there have been two alternative systems for choosing between who and whom. The older system, A, uses whom(ever) when the relative or interrogative pronoun is serving in an object function (direct object, indirect object, object of a preposition), who(ever) otherwise. The somewhat newer system, B, uses whom(ever) when the pronoun is an object in a constituent with its governing element, who(ever) otherwise.
Read on. But please put the brickbats back in the closet first.

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At 7/26/08, 8:08 PM, Anonymous Mark Dodge Medlin said...

I think "whom" should stick around, if for no other reason than this: I put a lot of effort into learning when its use is appropriate, and it makes me feel smart when I notice that somebody has used a grammatically incorrect "who." I'd hate to see that go to waste.


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