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Oh dear, and in The New Yorker, too

From last week’s New Yorker article on Rod Blagojevich:

“Jack them up!” Blagojevich tells one aide while discussing two well-to-do Chicago attorneys whom he feels haven’t donated enough money.

My advice to you, if you have trouble deciding when to use who and when to use whom, just use who for both subject and object. It will simplify your life, ease your mind, and put you ahead of the game when the dictionaries finally attach obs. to whom.

If, however, you persist in using both forms, keep in mind that when the pronoun is the subject of a clause — who haven’t donated enough money springs to mind — you are not allowed to use whom.



Posted by John McIntyre at 4:53 PM | | Comments (6)


I think this particular erroneous use of whom is part of a pattern that is more common than mere random use of whom for who. It appears when the clause that has been relativized itself has an underlying complex structure, in this case "he feels that they haven't donated enough money." Because of a sense that they must be the object of feels rather than what it actually is, the subject of haven't, a whom appears in the surface form of the sentence. Note that the that disappears in this process: we do not have *who(m) he feels that haven't donated.

I agree it isn't random who/whom confusion.

"Two attorneys whom he hated" is clearly right; "two attorneys who, he feels, haven't donated" is clearly right. In the middle, when the "he feels" isn't clearly parenthetical, it's harder to figure out.

The New Yorker is also a "safe haven" user, too, as seen a few issues ago. That said, I think I was definitely missing out after letting my subscription lapse for years.

I agree it isn't random who/whom confusion.
Ditto. I've seen another example of this somewhere recently... I wonder if they might have the accusative and infinitive construction of the KJV translation of John 20:15 bubbling away somewhere in the back of their heads — "supposing him to be the gardener"...

In her latest book, "When Everything Changed," Gail Collins (or her editor) uses "who" exclusively. I eventually stopped wanting to correct her.

On the other hand, Collins also writes "In the new millennia...", so I can't be certain whether the universal "who" was a style choice or a garden-variety error.

Your advice is ill-advised, sir.

Where "who" falls immediately after the preposition of which it is the object, it really does have to be "whom" in almost anybody's English. In these circumstances at least, objective whom is most certainly not yet obs, it is jolly to observe.

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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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