I'm a little bit confused about "Who" in this sentence:

"You may borrow as many books as you like, provided you show them to who is at the desk"

Is "who is at the desk" a grammatical noun clause? Can somebody explain?

  • You can't have "who". Only "whoever" is permitted. Incidentally, it's not a noun clause (even if there were such a thing), but a noun phrase in a fused relative construction.
    – BillJ
    Commented Sep 30, 2020 at 7:44
  • I still can't figure out why "Who" is inappropriate? Could you be more specific?
    – Gi Han
    Commented Sep 30, 2020 at 7:49
  • One reason is that this use of "who" tends to be interrogative. For example, in "I wonder who's next", the phrase "who's next" is interrogative. It means "I wonder about the answer to the question 'Who's next?'" Certainly "who" in examples like yours died out over a century ago.
    – BillJ
    Commented Sep 30, 2020 at 8:09
  • Who's next? Who is the subject. [John is next] Whom did you see? [I saw John.] Whom is the object of see. In letters: To whom is may concern.
    – Lambie
    Commented May 17, 2021 at 21:05

4 Answers 4


*You may borrow as many book as you like, provided you show them to [who is at the desk].

The correct pronoun is "whoever".

Other than in the 'free choice' construction (e.g. "You can invite who you like") and in a few preserved archaisms, the use of "who" in fused relative constructions like this is not permitted in today's Standard English.


You can use any of the wh- words to start a relative clause... and that's what this is. Other examples might be

show me what you are working on.
I need to know when he is coming.
We can meet where the path crosses the river

Normally, in a sentence like this, you would use whoever rather than who.


Standard English Grammar:

To whom did you show the books? I showed them to whomever was there.

  • To whom was the letter written?
  • To whomever those people were.

For me, who is not grammatical in standard terms, or in writing.

What people actually say: Many, many people say (including myself): Who did you show the books to?
Instead of: Whom did you show the books to? OR: To whom did you show the books? Those last two are standard grammar.

That said, I would say: show the books to the person at the desk. If you are going to bother to use to + pronoun, you might as well be formal and say:

To whom did you show the books?

  • Who is at the desk tonight? Answer: John is.
  • Whom did you see the street? Answer: I saw John.

So, the standard grammar here is: [...] provided you show them to whomever is at the desk"

whom is the object of a verb OR a preposition.

  • The person to whom I spoke was nice. [preposition]
  • Whom did he see on the street? [object of a verb]

Merriam Webster

**Definition of whom objective case of WHO

—used as an interrogative or relative —used as object of a verb or a preceding preposition to know for whom the bell tolls — John Donne or less frequently as the object of a following preposition the man whom you wrote to though now often considered stilted especially as an interrogative and especially in oral use —occasionally used as predicate nominative with a copulative verb or as subject of a verb especially in the vicinity of a preposition or a verb of which it might mistakenly be considered the object [...] Observers of the language have been predicting the demise of whom from about 1870 down to the present day. one of the pronoun cases is visibly disappearing—the objective case whom — R. G. White (1870) whom is dying out in England, where "Whom did you see?" sounds affected — Anthony Burgess (1980) Our evidence shows that no one—English or not—should expect whom to disappear momentarily; it shows every indication of persisting quite a while yet. Actual usage of who and whom—accurately described at the entries in this dictionary—does not appear to be markedly different from the usage of Shakespeare's time. But the 18th century grammarians, propounding rules and analogies, rejecting other rules and analogies, and usually justifying both with appeals to Latin or Greek, have intervened between us and Shakespeare. It seems clear that the grammarians' rules have had little effect on the traditional uses. One thing they have accomplished is to encourage hypercorrect uses of whom. whom shall I say is calling? Another is that they have made some people unsure of themselves. said he was asked to step down, although it is not known exactly who or whom asked him — Redding (Conn.) Pilot

More Definitions for whom whom pronoun English Language Learners Definition of whom —used in formal writing or speech See the full definition for whom in the English Language Learners Dictionary

Also from Merriam Webster, whoever (subject) and whomever (object): : whatever person : no matter who —used in any grammatical relation except that of a possessive.

to whomever is at the front desk.= to whatever person is there.


The given sentence

You may borrow as many books as you like, provided you show them to who is at the desk

certainly seems odd to me. I do not think it natural, whether it is technically grammatical or not. One could use "whomever". That is clearly grammatical, but would sound quite odd to me in casual speech. It would in my view work only in quite formal writing, and even there it would not be my first choice.

I would most probably use:

You may borrow as many books as you like, provided you show them to the person at the desk.

But i might use, and would find quite natural, the fuller form:

You may borrow as many books as you like, provided you show them to the person who is at the desk.

use of "the person" avoids the oddity that "who" most often used for questions is appearing in a different role here, the oddity that 'who" is being used in the objective role, and the uncommon form of the example sentence.

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