I read this morning :

... words which leap from the second verse and alert whomever may read the epistle ... to the fact that ...

I am not clear with what exactly is going on with 'alert whomever may read'. Is 'whomever' the grammatical object of 'alert' or is it the grammatical subject of 'may read' ? Or is it both ?

So should it be 'whoever' ?

  • I think you should have stayed on ELU. Yours was a good question and worthy of that site. – BillJ Dec 5 '18 at 17:21

You are correct. In a sense, the pronoun is acting in a double way: as an object in the parent clause and as a subject in the dependent clause.

The received rules of English say that the correct choice between "whoever" and "whomever" is determined by whether it is used as a subject or an object in the dependent clause. When, as in your example, the pronoun is the subject of the dependent clause, the correct choice is "whoever."

"Whoever" and "whomever" lead to a more concise and vigorous style. "The words en huios alert any person who reads the epistle" shortens to "The words en huios alert whoever reads the epistle." And obviously "The words "en huios* alert any person whom reads the epistle" is grossly ungrammatical. You will not make a mistake if you recognize that "whoever" is a contraction of "any person who" and that "whomever" is a contraction of "any person whom."

The pretentious who have not been taught the received rules think that indiscriminate use of "whomever" shows a high style. What it actually shows is ignorance or carelessness. Because Greek is an inflected language, I'd place no confidence in a writer who does not understand inflection in even the writer's native language.

  • 1
    "The pretentious" is in itself quite a pretentious thing to say, sometimes people make genuine mistakes. We all do. We don't know who the author of that line was, so let's not pass judgment without knowing the full facts. – Mari-Lou A Dec 5 '18 at 15:09
  • @ Mari-Lou The facts are right in front of our faces. Who the author is irrelevant to what was written. The author is talking down to the audience. The words "the son" are highly unlikely to leap at anyone, even metaphorically, and certainly do not in themselves carry all that theological weight. The rhetoric is meant to impress. And why am I to defer to the judgment that I may not make, or at least not express, my own judgments? – Jeff Morrow Dec 5 '18 at 15:24

... words which leap from the second verse and alert whomever may read the epistle ... to the fact that ...

Both sound a little weird, because the construction imposes competing but unsatisfiable requirements: "who(m)ever" must be nominative because it's the subject of "may read", but it must be accusative because it's the head of the noun phrase "who(m)ever may read the epistle" (the object of "alert") and it can't be both, so you have a quandary.

There's no way to get out of the quandary: you have to infringe one condition or the other. English is not well designed in this respect!


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