More who-whom trickiness

rogersgeorge on February 2nd, 2014

I’ve brought up the subject of correct use of who and whom several times in this blog. (Do a search on the words in the field to the right and you’ll find several.) Here’s another situation that’s easy to get wrong, especially if you’re used to using whom after a preposition, which is usually correct. First the quote, from This Day in History for January 11:

In the first flight of its kind, American aviator Amelia Earhart departs Wheeler Field in Honolulu, Hawaii, on a solo flight to North America. Hawaiian commercial interests offered a $10,000 award to whoever accomplished the flight first.

What’s that who(ever) doing after the preposition “to”? Shouldn’t it be “whomever”? Nope! Here’s why: Prepositions take an object, which is a noun or pronoun—or a noun clause, which we have here. See that verb (accomplished)? Verbs need subjects, and that’s where the “whoever” comes in. It’s the subject of the verb “accomplished.”  The whole noun clause is the object of “to.”  The rule with clauses is to go from the inside out, and since “whoever” is inside the clause, that takes precedence over being right after the preposition.

Here’s an example of how to do it wrong, from the February issue of Scientific American, no less. Page 18, if you want to find it yourself.

Authorities are concerned not just with the volume of the ivory trade, but with whom is doing the killing.

Watch out for those noun clauses and your writing will fly better.

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