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Thursday, November 5, 2009

"Whomever Wrote This Has Serious Mental Problems"

My goodness. Aside from the hostility reflected in that statement, please note the delicious use of "whomever." Practically nobody uses this word any more. However our psychological diagnostician has got it EXACTLY WRONG, you dolt! The word is whoever.

Livia despairs. Ignorant teachers, writers, and talking heads have perpetrated countless assaults on innocent syntax, confusing their audiences and leading to the feelings of inadequacy that result in horrors such as the one quoted (see also "I'm OK, Me's OK, Myself's a Bitch" from last November). Here's another:
Whom shall I say is calling?
Pity the poor receptionist (housemaid, butler) who has been taught that this question is "polite" English. The error arises from the interjection of "shall I say": no one (Livia devoutly hopes) would seriously ask whom is calling. Would she? Gods help us. And in fact, a truly polite way to ask is, "May I say who is calling?" But that's a different rant.

Who intensifies to whoever and is nominative: that is, it is the subject of a sentence or clause.

intensifies to whomever and is objective--the object of the sentence, clause, or preposition.
So how can one know which is the correct form to use? Simple, loveys. Livia will help you. The key is to substitute "he" or "him" for the pronoun. If "he" is the correct word, then use who or whoever. If it's him, use whom or whomever. See? Easy as slipping poison into wine. For example,
Give this package to whoever answers the door.
Now, tell Livia why whoever is correct in that sentence. Anyone? Sigh.

It's correct because whoever is the subject of the clause, NOT the object of the preposition "to." Who answers the door? He answers the door. Therefore, the nominative whoever is correct. ("Give the package to the person who answers the door.")

Let's try another:
I can give the package to whomever I want.
Here, the subject of the subordinate clause is "I," and whomever is in the objective position: I want to give the package to him.

Oh all right. Livia can see your eyes glazing over. She has done her best. Her last bit of advice is this: If your objective is to be bitingly sardonic, make sure it's in the right place.