The Difference is the “M”

by Cherie Tucker

February 2015

We all use whoever and whomever when we don’t know who did something or whom we’re talking about, but sometimes we don’t know which one is right. Just last week I saw two wrong whomevers in the paper’s “RANT & RAVE” section. One began with “To whomever put . . .”; the other began with “To whomever left . . .”

Whomever, like the word him, can’t put or leave anything. Whoever, on the other hand, could have put something or left something. When you’re not sure which to use, try substituting the word he. If he works( there is no m), you need who or whoever.

He left.

Him left.

See how that works? If the subject is doing something, it has to be who, just as if the subject were he. You would never say, “Him went to the store.” I hope.

Conversely, whom and whomever, like the word him, end with m and can’t do anything. They aren’t the subjects of the action; they are the objects. Things get done to them.

You’re going to tell him he’s fired?

You’re going to tell whom he’s fired?

In our examples from the newspaper, the writers wanted to talk about the nameless persons who did things they didn’t like. They should have said “To whoever put (or left)” because in both instances these whoevers did something.

I know some people mistakenly think using whom or whomever sounds more elegant or educated. It’s not, when used incorrectly.

Give these to whoever wants them (he does the wanting).

Give these to whomever you choose (you chose him).

Read the whole sentence, by the way, so that, as in the “To whomever put” example, you don’t stop at “To” and say to yourself, “To him.” You must read enough to see what these unnamed folks are doing or having done to them before you decide whether to use who or whom.

And whoever told you we don’t use whom anymore was only talking about himself. Writers use it all the time, and we use it correctly.

Cherie Tucker, owner of GrammarWorks, has taught writing basics to professionals since 1987, presenting at the PNWA conference.  She currently teaches Practical Grammar for Editors at the University of Washington’s Editing Certification program and edits as well.

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