Monday, July 30, 2012

New Elements of Style

by Rich Wallace

It gives me great pleasure to hereby eliminate two fundamental but archaic rules of grammar.

My son texted me this afternoon to inquire whether “whoever” or “whomever” was correct in a sentence he’d written in a report for his job. I didn’t know the answer, and I have, in fact, never known the correct answer to a “who or whom” question, and have always opted for “who” (or “whoever”). I never use whom or whomever, even though I know I’ve been “wrong” nearly half the time. So I’ve decided to change the rules.

I looked up my son’s situation in two dictionaries and the Chicago Manual of Style and ascertained--with about 70% confidence--that “whoever” was probably the correct choice. But then I decided, who cares? So, henceforth, “who” or “whoever” will be the right choice in every situation.

In related news, constructions such as this: “To whom shall I send this letter?” will now be cast in real English as “Who should I send this letter to?” which is the way I have always said it (and written it) anyway. Every time I have said (or written) it that way is now retroactively correct.

Here’s the simple new rule, written poetically for easy memorization: Who and whoever are always correct; whom and whomever are never.


  1. Is the "who" getting something? Then it's "whom". (This is the person to whom I shall give the book.) It's just the accusative form. Clear as mud, right? I was a Latin teacher. Sigh. But you are right; the boys who read your sports books are not going to be impressed if you get it right.

  2. I'm one of those people who (correctly used here) learned the correct way to use those words, but when I speak I seldom do it correctly. When I write, if the correct way sounds awkward, I change it. Thanks for making it "official."

  3. Thanks, you two. Actually, the copy editors at my publishers invariably make these things right. (I've worked as a copy editor, too, and always sweated over who/whom.) I never knew that "whom" is the accusative form; sounds like being hushed by a stern librarian, which is sort of how I feel about the whole thing!