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Leaving to one side whether “who” is the subject or the object of the sentence, to the best of my knowledge all four questions below are considered grammatical and acceptable ways of asking who the person with Sarah was:

a) “Who was Sarah with?”
b) “Who was with Sarah?”
c) “Whom was Sarah with?”
d) “With whom was Sarah?”

  1. I would like to know which form is considered the most natural in speech, I think it's a toss up between a) and b), and which the most “correct” from a native speaker's point of view. Can it please be someone who is currently living in an anglophone country.

  2. I would also like to know if the following are acceptable. I'm not sure how to classify this type of question, the speaker is asking for confirmation because they either didn't hear the person's name or they cannot believe the statement is true, e.g.

Mike: Yesterday I saw Sarah with Adam (Lisa's ex-husband).
Mary: e) Sarah was with whom?
f) Sarah was with who?

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a) “Who was Sarah with?”

b) “Who was with Sarah?”

These are both correct but they have a different emphasis. In (a) Sarah was with someone. We get the impression that the someone was more important/famous/significant than Sarah. In (b) we get the impression that Sarah was the main character and someone was tagging along with her.

The above distinction is exaggerated for the purpose of clarity but the implications is that if A is with B, then B is somehow more central, and if B is with A then A is more central.


Mike: Yesterday I saw Sarah with Adam (Lisa's ex-husband).

Mary:

e) Sarah was with whom?

f) Sarah was with who?

In the grammar of Victorian times in Britain, "whom" would have been the strictly correct form. However, in everyday current spoken British English, 99.9% of speakers would use "who".

Other varieties of English may differ.

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  • Thank you so much. And am I right in affirming that d) is rarely if ever used in speech? – Mari-Lou A Nov 16 '20 at 13:01
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    (d) sounds absurdly stiff and old-fashioned. – Kate Bunting Nov 16 '20 at 13:33
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    Version (d) sounds off to a modern ear regardless of whether you use "who" or "whom". You might find some such dialog in a Sherlock Holmes story or perhaps in an old-fashioned courtroom drama. – chasly - supports Monica Nov 16 '20 at 14:13
  • What is the source of the "99.9%" stat? It needs a citation. – AIQ Nov 16 '20 at 14:37

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