Whoever or Whomever — which is correct in this example?

Posted on 2013-11-25
Medium Priority
Last Modified: 2014-01-05

I've never posted a grammar question on EE but I suppose in the miscellaneous category, anything is acceptable, right?

I'm creating a promotional email to send to a database of customers. Part of the copy includes the following:

"…Perhaps your own children (or grandchildren) are in that category or maybe your nieces & nephews or some of the kids in your neighborhood. Whomever they are, we want to send them [product] as a gift from [company name] and YOU!"
My question is whether or not "Whomever" is correctly used there. Or should it be, "Whoever"?

If you know the answer, could you also explain the rule or rationale?

Question by:Steve_Brady
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LVL 17
ID: 39676777
I believe you are correct with 'whomever'.

LVL 17
ID: 39676781
(Using rule 1 from lower in that link)
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Accepted Solution

Joe Winograd - EE Fellow & MVE earned 2000 total points
ID: 39677821
Hi Steve,

I believe the answer is "Whoever". The reason is that it falls under the "object of a verb to be" rule. It is the same rule that generates "it is I" or "this is she" as the correct language. "Whomever" is the object form but there's no action (through the verb) that takes an object (it is a verb to be).

However, the fact that some may regard it as iffy (for example, Robin gave the opposing answer) leads me to suggest that you rephrase the statement to avoid the quandary. Maybe something as simple as changing "Whoever they are" to "In any case". Regards, Joe
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LVL 17
ID: 39679221
There's four or five pages here discussing it. They do sum up with re-wording to avoid the issue, but that is a bit of a cheap way out.

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Expert Comment

by:Joe Winograd - EE Fellow & MVE
ID: 39679377
Hi Robin,

When you’re faced with a “whoever/whomever” choice, it’s often a good time to dodge the issue and simplify your sentence.

"cheap way out" or a wise move? :)

So, now that you've read all four pages, what's your opinion on Steve's sentence – "whoever" or "whomever"?

Back to my previous post, which do you think is correct:

"it is I"


"it is me"

Similarly, which do you think is correct:

"this is she"


"this is her"

I believe the correct answer to this is in a different article at the website you referenced:

The point in Steve's sentence is that the verb to be ("are") is acting as a linking verb (a non-action verb). As the article above states, linking verbs
don't describe an action so much as describe a state of being. When pronouns follow [JW: in this case, precede] these non-action verbs, you use the subject pronouns such as "I," "she," "he," "they," and "we."

This is why "whoever", not "whomever", is correct in Steve's sentence, in my opinion. Regards, Joe
LVL 17
ID: 39679509
Possibly wise to avoid the issue, but a bit limp if you have made people aware that you dodged making a firm decision because you weren't sure. I often change my sentences, sometimes just to avoid an uncertain spelling or just because my vocabulary fails to provide the word I am looking for.
I'm still voting for 'whomever' if even for no better reason than it sounds like you know how to use it correctly. Someone would have to be very sure of themselves to suggest that it may be wrong, and there are web pages to back it up if you interpret yhem one way.

I usually try to find examples to copy, but have been unsuccessful so far to find a literary example of exactly this construction.
Both the links I provided agree that there is a great deal of confusion over this so picking the one that sounds best might be the right answer.
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Expert Comment

by:Joe Winograd - EE Fellow & MVE
ID: 39679584
OK, we'll have to agree to disagree – I'm sure that "whoever" is correct in Steve's statement, and I certainly wouldn't use "whomever" just because "it sounds like [sic - see below] you know how to use it correctly." That said, I still vote for a rephrasing. :)

You should look up "as if" vs. "like" (your sentence above calls for "as if"). Regards, Joe
LVL 17
ID: 39680030
I never try to be perfect all the time, very few people notice. Too much reading different word usage on the internet from all parts of the world to be certain of anything these days.
Grammar ain't what it used to be. I believe the important thing is to be understood and you interpreted my 'like' perfectly so it must be working.

Can you find any links to rules that back up your claim for 'whoever'?

Or offer re-interpretations of the two that I posted?
LVL 17
ID: 39680079
This is a nice simple rule which if correct would suggest that whoever is correct here.


I may be changing my vote.

'they are' would be replaced by 'he is' and the rule is to use whoever.

Can you comment on this rule please Joe?
LVL 25

Expert Comment

ID: 39681551
It’s whom when it’s the object of a sentence, and who when it’s the subject.

The fact that such a discussion can realistically take place is an indicator of the death status of whom.

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Expert Comment

by:Joe Winograd - EE Fellow & MVE
ID: 39681710

> I never try to be perfect all the time, very few people notice.

Well, you caught one of my hot buttons – grammar. I do try to be perfect all the time. But I also agree with you – very few people notice. In fact, it's getting to the point with the sorry state of education these days that many people don't know the difference – on even what I would call the simple stuff. For example, it's stunning how often people can't get "it's" and "its" or "you're" and "your" right – as well as folks who don't know the difference between a plural "s" and a possessive one. Then again, I'm a wacky sort who has made contributions to the Apostrophe Catastrophes website. :)   Here's one:

two cousins> I believe the important thing is to be understood and you interpreted my 'like' perfectly so it must be working.

Again, we'll have to agree to disagree. I think it's important to get it right. Sure, I interpreted your "like" perfectly. Lots of bad grammar may be interpreted correctly. I always interpret the "it's", "its", "you're", "your", and the plural vs. possessive "s" correctly, but that doesn't make it good grammar (although I suppose you could say it is "working").

> Can you comment on this rule please Joe?

That site is showing not so much a "rule" as a "trick" to figure out the correct grammar. I'm OK with tricks and often recommend them. As tricks go, it's a fine one.

> I may be changing my vote.

Good choice. :)


> It’s whom when it’s the object of a sentence, and who when it’s the subject.

Yes, of course, but this is a more complex situation. It has to do with a verb to be acting as a linking verb. Read the previous posts in the thread.

> The fact that such a discussion can realistically take place is an indicator of the death status of whom.

I don't think so. At least, I hope not.

We need to turn our attention to more serious matters, like the Oxford comma. I'm a big fan of it, but every time I put one in an article, my favorite editor removes it. :)   Regards, Joe
LVL 17
ID: 39682179
The wrong it'ss and yours make my teeth itch when I see them (Trying to (mis)use a plural 's' there).
I am right on the fence as far as rules and correctness go. If the rules were always applied rigidly the language could never develop. We could all be chattering in some obscure Shakespearean dialect, some Elizabethan version of 1984's Newspeak. So whilst I dislike seeing things that I know to be incorrect and would be happy to correct them given the chance, I would allow all the rules to bend a little, at least until a more universal set can be decided upon. I'm fairly certain that the rules of UK English differ from US English in many areas, and this causes confusion with the widespread use of the internet bringing them into contact with each other.
You can ne'er really ha'e too many apostrophes when they're there in their proper places.

Steve, I have changed my mind to agree with Joe.

'Whoever' is probably the correct word for your email.
LVL 32

Expert Comment

ID: 39685899
If we're talking about perfect grammar, there is only one correct answer and that is whoever. To simplify matters, think of the base words who and whom. As has been pointed out, who is used when it is the subject or when it is the object of an intransitive verb (e.g. Who knows when that will happen, Who is it that's going to tell him). Whom is used when it's the object of a preposition (e.g. The award was given to whom she felt was most sincere, the letter finally reached the person for whom it was intended).
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Expert Comment

ID: 39685902
p.s. I would get rid of the & -
... or maybe your nieces or nephews or some of the kids ...

Author Closing Comment

ID: 39710283
Thanks for all the comments. This has been a very interesting dialogue. I actually registered for two different grammar forums just so I could post this question. They both came back saying that:

    "Whoever" is the correct word in this case.

However, I'm still not sure that I understand the rationale or if anyone truly does? But don't you love it when something comes along which while maybe not falling through the cracks, does fall way down into the cracks?!  :)

It reminds me of a video I watched in which the late renowned physicist & lecture (and Nobel Laureate), Richard Feynman, describes one of the ways scientific knowledge increases and also why something can be proved to be wrong but can never be proved to be right — or at least right all the time.

He used the example of someone watching a Chess match in an attempt to describe the laws (rules) for how it works. Before long, the Observer would understand how Rooks & Bishops move and then the Queen & King and Knights & Pawns, etc. (That might be slightly out of order but the order doesn't really matter.)

The point he made is that after a while, the Observer would probably conclude that he's figured out all the laws needed to describe everything observed in the game of Chess. But then all of a sudden he makes an observation which startles him, namely that one of the players exchanges the positions of the King and a Rook. Alarms go off and he pulls his hair out and realizes that his conclusion was wrong. But as Feynman pointed out, it wasn't really that his conclusions were wrong but that they just needed to be expanded to include Castling.

Of course the same process would repeat itself all over again if the Observer were to again erroneously conclude that he had everything figured out completely. For if he continued to observe long enough, he would eventually see one of the pieces reach its opponents baseline and be changed into a Queen.

It's a fascinating concept and as with so many other things, Feynman explained it to perfection — or, actually I shouldn't say that, right? (Because some person or event would most likely come along in the future and shatter my opinion. :)

It also underscores the fallacy and dangers of "dogma" — be it in science or most religions or even individuals.

OK, that's my blathering for the evening which, most likely, no one will ever read since I'm closing this thread.  :)
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Expert Comment

ID: 39711512
>>However, I'm still not sure that I understand the rationale or if anyone truly does?<<
A lot of people understand the "rationale". The definition of a subject and an object is taught early on in English grammar. If it's a subject, the word is whoever and, if it's an object, the word is whomever. It's not a rationale, it's a rule of English grammar.
LVL 17
ID: 39711734
There are several English speaking countries, are you sure the rules are the same?
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Expert Comment

by:Joe Winograd - EE Fellow & MVE
ID: 39758372
> which, most likely, no one will ever read since I'm closing this thread

Well, I read it! Just took a while. :)  Thanks for taking the time to write it. I found it very interesting, especially the discussion about Feynman (I'm reading right now "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!"). I'm a big chess fan (worked on a chess-playing program years ago), but was not aware of this writing about it by Feynman – fascinating!

Btw, thanks for the points. Regards, Joe

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