Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Whoever or whomever

I was watching “The Office“ here on cable last night, and in this episode the characters debate at an all-staff meeting about whether someone has used “whomever“ properly.

There were lots of opinions, nearly all of them wrong, and I wanted to scream and pull my hair out. Less than 1 percent of the population knows how to use the words. One bright guy at The Office said that “whomever“ was the “more formal“ way to say whoever. Well.

The rule is, you use whoever when it´s the subject within the clause, and whomever when it´s an object within the clause, or the object of a preposition within the clause.

Incorrect People often mistakenly say, for example, Give the money to whomever wants it, thinking that it´s “whomever“ because the word follows “to.“ But it should be “whoever wants it“ because “whoever“ is the subject of the clause.

Correct: Give the money to whoever wants it.

Hint: To test whether you´re using the words properly, just drop “-ever“ from the word and see if it sounds right.

Wrong “He will perform for whomever shows interest.“ (Test: He will perform for whom shows interest.) The test doesn´t sound right, does it? That´s because without the -ever cluttering things up, you can see that “who“ is correct as the subject of the clause “who shows interest“ or “whoever shows interest.“

Correct: He will perform for whoever shows interest.

If you don´t like my explanation, try this one. It´s pretty good, and it tries mightily to make it simple.


  1. Jim --

    I have very sad tidings for you. Not only do few people know how to use whoever and whomever correctly, but the situation is going to become immeasureably worse. I am teaching an SAT prep course and recently read in one of the major workbooks that there will be no questions in the new writing section on who and whom because the distinction is passing out of use. The end is near! Soon it will be just you and Kelly who care.
    Dave Boldt

  2. Thank you for clearing up the "for whomever/whoever" question for me. I never thought about dropping the "ever." And I will continue to care as well.

    BUT what REALLY gripes me is the "me and Joe did something." It started with me correcting my kids. Now I'm hearing it on the futuristic sci-fi TV shows I like to watch. I certainly hope the Boldt comment is not a sign of things to come.

  3. The other one is, “between you and I“, which really should be, “between you and me“, since “me“ is the object of the preposition between. But people think it sounds more formal, more correct to say, “Between you and I.“