Thursday, September 29, 2005

Word Nerd 7: To Whom It May Concern

What’s the trick for knowing when to use “who” and “whom”? Try this. Can you substitute “him” or “her” instead? If that still sounds right—as an objective pronoun—then use “whom.” If it sounds correct with “he” or “she” instead, then it should be “who.”

It’s not easy. Even The New York Times, employer of writers and editors who ought to know better, gets the wrong one into print pretty frequently.

Another bugaboo is the “that/which” prob. For that one, if you use a comma before it, it’s “which.” If you don’t, it’s "that." “Which” leads into a clause. And watch out for “that/who,” too. If you’re referring to a human, it’s “who,” not “that.”

Whom’s up for some practice?

(Vocabulary humor.)

1. She was the third person in a row in the express line (who, whom) had more than 10 items in her basket.
2. He was frequently mistaken for his older brother, (who, whom) he resembled closely.
3. Jennifer Aniston is the one actress (who, that, which) went on Oprah’s show and managed not to reveal anything embarrassing.
4. The marriage contract between Tom and Katie, (that, which) was reported to guarantee her millions of dollars, was just one of the wild rumors floated about the couple.
5. The hurricane (that, which) hit Texas and Louisiana earlier this month brought an influx of travelers to Dallas and Fort Worth, cities (that, which) already were housing thousands of evacuees from Katrina.
6. How do you know (who, whom) to blame for all the trouble in the fruit cellar?

No prizes this week. And don’t post your answers to this. That lets everyone play along. By the way, “lets” and “let’s” are frequently misused. The one with the apostrophe means “let us.”

Response to last week’s contest was great. I’ll try to rustle up more prizes. It’s always fun to win sump’n!


Anonymous handworn said...

Is "lets" even a word?

10:21 AM  
Anonymous Ragman said...

Only if the prof lets you.

This article reminds of why I didn't like English class. Too many exceptions to rules for a technical person like myself.

11:07 AM  
Anonymous Shelly said...

Thank you, oh thank you, Prof, for this quiz. Until this moment, I have never understood the proper usage of that and which. I usually get who and whom correct, though your guidance on assessing which to use was invaluable. Thanks so much for the "rules of thumb".

11:26 AM  
Blogger Cold Potato said...

Rules of thumb are just fine, but what is the eight-fingered man supposed to do?

4:57 PM  
Anonymous leslie in ca said...


D'ya wanna fix the error in sentence 3?

5:24 PM  
Blogger theprofessor said...

Yeah, you can say "He lets his dog out twice a day."

And thanks for the catch on sentence 3. I really shouldn't try to do these so late at night! I'm bleary-eyed!

11:50 AM  
Anonymous Vrdnd said...

Have to disagree in that it is not what we use back home. That being stated, still loved it.

12:09 AM  
Blogger daytrip said...

Leslie/Prof: What is error in sentence 3 please? Thought I knew my sentence structure until now!

2:03 PM  
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