He saw his mother speaking in the phone.

"Who is mummy talking?"

"Mummy is talking with who?"

Can the question rephrase as the second one?

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    Your second version is "valid", but very unlikely (particularly from a child, since it's syntactically complex). Your first version isn't valid at all though - it must include a preposition: Who is Mummy talking with? (or more likely, Who is Mummy talking to?). – FumbleFingers Oct 5 '17 at 13:18
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    A couple other minor corrections: his mother was speaking on the phone, and you want to ask "Can the question be rephrased..." – stangdon Oct 5 '17 at 15:14

I believe that both sentences are incorrect. They lack the preposition and the use of the relative pronoun is not correct.

"Who is mummy talking?", should be "Whom is mummy talking to?"/"To whom is mummy talking?"


"Mummy is talking with who?", should be "Mummy is talking to/with whom?".

I've learnt that when using who+preposition, whom is the adequate option. But I am not a native speaker.

I am an ESL teacher and every book we use teaches the "whom" case. Always emphasising its old-fashioned use, though, along with other examples as the use of elder/eldest, ou even the reading of numbers. Spoken everyday-English may be different from what scholars teach, but the use of whom is certainly the most correct when a preposition is dependent on. Whom are you speaking to? sounds more awkward than To whom are you speaking?, but both are correct. Even if it isn't much used.

  • 1
    Technically, you are correct; it should be whom. But in practice, almost nobody says whom anymore; it's always who. – stangdon Oct 5 '17 at 15:12
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    @stangdon Nope. If almost nobody says whom anymore, then "it should be whom" is incorrect as a description of the English language. It doesn't help to spread the myth that the way everyone speaks Standard English is somehow incorrect. – snailplane Oct 6 '17 at 0:33
  • @snailplane - Well, I think we're getting a little philosophical now. I certainly wouldn't say "whom" is wrong, and just because many people don't use it (regularly) doesn't make it wrong, just perhaps an incomplete description. But English(es) cover a lot of ground and it's almost impossible to give a complete description. – stangdon Oct 6 '17 at 11:19
  • @stangdon On the flip side of that, just because people used to speak a certain way, doesn't make it more correct than the modern usage. Part of what makes English so difficult to learn is that we keep changing the rules ;) – ColleenV Oct 6 '17 at 14:17
  • @stangdon I don't have any reason to refute your comment, but I need to clarify something since you appear to have misunderstood. Using whom isn't wrong, and I wouldn't and didn't make that claim. What is wrong is the claim that "it should be whom", which is incorrect as a description of the English language. – snailplane Oct 8 '17 at 2:06

The following forms are correct:

Who is Mummy talking to?

Who's Mummy talking to?

Who is Mummy talking with?

Who's Mummy talking with?

"To" sounds more idiomatic here.

The following sounds somewhat awkward:

Mummy is talking to who?

The only time we would be likely to say that would be if we were emphasising the word "who" and expressing surprise:

(A:) Mummy's talking to Uncle Bob.

(B:) Mummy's talking to who? [She never talks to Uncle Bob!]

Note: The word "whom" has been mentioned. The "whom" forms are correct formal usage (but most people would consider "who" equally correct, and almost everyone would consider "who" acceptable in all but the most formal contexts). Admittedly, even informal usage doesn't always tolerate "who" directly after a preposition - but the above example would be an exception to that.

There are some English speakers who avoid "whom" altogether. Others use it in at least some circumstances. However, in a child's speech, particularly since the sentence uses the informal term "Mummy", it's unlikely that the word "whom" would be used.

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