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Just say who

Another one turns up, as it always does, on a page proof, after passing through the hands of a writer, an assigning editor and a couple of copy editors:

The FTC asked for the orders shutting the businesses and freezing assets without notifying the defendant, whom they believed would go into hiding.

The clause folded into that sentence is who would go into hiding.

Here’s the thing. Whom has an increasingly insecure perch in the language, and who is not only supplanting it in spoken English, but also increasingly in written English. So if you are a professional journalist — reporter, assigning editor, copy editor or whatever —and your grasp on the distinction between subject and object is a tenuous, the safe bet is to use who in all cases, since whom is the thing you’re apt to get wrong. At the worst, you’ll be thought casual rather than ignorant.

Purists will fret, but they enjoy that. It gives their lives meaning.



Posted by John McIntyre at 9:23 PM | | Comments (3)


Whom cares?

Excellent advice. I see "whomever" misused in edited prose nearly every week, and I don't think I've ever seen it used correctly. Sometimes I even doubt that there is a correct use for it.

I remember using "whom" correctly in a 1A question headline years ago and getting a clip from a reader congratulating the paper for using the right word.

I have since used it incorrectly in body type. So much for that!

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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