4

Consider, please, the following sentence:

She's an actress whom most people think is at the peak of her career.

Is whom correctly used here as an object of think? I'd suggest such variants:

She's an actress who most people think is at the peak of her career.

or

She's an actress whom most people think (to) be at the peak of her career.

  • 3
    It should be (to be) not (to) be. Both words (to and be) are either present or they are missing. It is not just to which can be omitted. ... whom most people think be at the peak of her career is ungrammatical . – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jul 29 '18 at 19:08
10

Your suggestions are sound.

Most people think [that] she is at the peak of her career.
She's an actress who most people think is at the peak of her career.

The objective form "whom" is not appropriate here. It doesn't function as the object of to think. That role is filled by the entire subordinate clause. The role relevant to this word choice is that of subject. The finite "is" requires one.

Most people consider her to be at the peak of her career.
She's an actress whom most people consider to be at the peak of her career.

Here, the objective form is appropriate. In these sentences, "her" and "whom" don't act as the subject of anything. Instead of a subordinate clause acting as the sole argument of to consider, these sentences employ both a direct object and an object complement. The object complement here is an infinitive phrase.

3

In the form of the statement with to be which is based on an object complement:

Many people think her (to be) unready for prime time.

She is an actress whom many people think (to be) unready for prime time.

the objective-case whom is not incorrect. But you are far more likely to encounter this nowadays:

Many people think she is unready for prime time.

She is an actress who many people think is unready for prime time.

That doesn't mean the former is archaic by any means. It tends to correlate with a higher educational level and with experience reading texts from decades or centuries past, where the form is to be found more frequently.

1

Geoffrey Pullum, Professor of General Linguistics at the University of Edinburgh, wrote the following about a very similar pair of sentences (source, pages 41–43):

(1) We are talking about a man who everyone seems to think will one day be king.
(2) We are talking about a man whom everyone seems to think will one day be king.

The rule "use who for subjects and whom for nonsubjects" is insufficiently explicit. These examples involve a relative clause that begins after the word man. The next word (who or whom) introduces the relative clause (everyone seems to think __ will one day be king). There are two things that "subject" might mean here: "subject of its clause," that is, subject of the clause that it logically belongs to, or "subject of the relative clause." The word who is logically the subject in a clause that has will one day be king as its predicate; if that allows it to count as a subject, then version (1) is correct. But the subject of the whole relative clause is not who but rather everyone. The word who is not the logical subject of that, but just of a piece of it. If that's what we mean by being a subject, then we should pick sentence (2).

Where do we turn to decide this point? We look in good manuals of English usage. And we immediately find something very interesting: there are clear examples of both types in literary works by the best authors. The who group—those whose writing suggests that they would plump for (1)—includes Arnold Bennett, Charles Dickens, Henry Fielding, and William Safire (the New York Times's language pundit). Good company. But the whom group, whose usage shows they would select (2), includes early writers like William Caxton and Izaak Walton, famous novelists like Charles Kingsley and Rudyard Kipling, romantic poets like John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley, and at least some New York Times and Publishers Weekly writers, together with Charles Darwin and William Shakespeare. That, too, is a dream team.

What is going on? The answer is that there are two different rules involved. Some writers follow one, while others follow the other. The members of the who group tacitly assume that who has to be the subject of its clause; the members of the whom group tacitly assume that who has to be the subject of the relative clause.

Bold emphasis mine.

In short, some speakers prefer who and others prefer whom.


Following the above analysis, in the relative clause most people think __ is at the peak of her career there are two subjects. Those speakers who consider who (the lexeme) the relevant subject (the logical subject of [who] is at the peak of her career) use the nominative alternation, who, while those who consider most people the relevant subject (the subject of the entire relative clause) use the accusative alternation, whom.

  • I'm not a linguist, nor even a native speaker, but it seems to me that the example of the article differs from mine. In your example there is a non-finite construction "will be", rather on a par with my variant "She's an actress whom most people think to be at the peak of her career." Whereas I argue against a usage of "whom" with the finite verb "is". I think it matters though I may be wrong on this point. – Michael Login Jul 30 '18 at 16:36
  • "To be" constitutes a non-finite construction, but "will be" is as finite as "is". The "will" here is the present-tense form of an auxiliary verb that has "would" as its past-tense form. Of course, this particular verb denotes future-tense semantics, which makes the past- and preset-tense grammatical labels fairly misleading. Whatever explains the usage of "whom" in Pullman's example (2), it's not the lack of a finite verb. I can't offer any explanation myself. My dialect is better represented by example (1), so that's the only example I can explain and endorse. – Gary Botnovcan Jul 31 '18 at 13:30
  • @MvLog As currently stated, your question is asking whether a sentence is grammatical. It further presents your own suggestions, which I take as supplementary, and which score low as any sort of argument. The above analysis talks about different subjects and, in the first place, what is understood by "subject" in the rule governing the use of who. I have attempted to clarify how what the professor wrote applies to the sentence at issue, even though I think it's quite straightforward. I'm not sure how relevant your objection is at all. – user3395 Jul 31 '18 at 13:44
0

All three are correct.

However, almost nobody uses whom nowadays, particularly in speech or informal writing.

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