A: Who could have done this?

B: Whoever did, we'll find him.

Is B's response with "whoever did" grammatically correct and natural?


It is grammatically correct: it is an example of verb phrase ellipsis. The omitted text appears in brackets below:

A: Who could have done this?
B: Whoever did [do this], we'll find them.

To me, though, it strikes the wrong note to have do as the main verb in the question, and to have do then appear as an auxiliary verb in the answer. I think that it would be better to keep it as the main verb in the answer. As a main verb, it requires an object:

A: Who could have done this?
B: Whoever did it, we'll find them.

Note that, unless you are sure that the perpetrator is male and that he acted alone, it would be better to use **them**. This covers multiple perpetrators and also covers a single person of indeterminate gender. If you say **him**, some listeners may be misled into thinking that you have somehow deduced that the perpetrator is male and was acting alone.
  • In English, masculine pronouns are also used for unknown genders. Today, many people intentionally use "they/them/their," instead because they feel it is more inclusive. Both, however, are correct (some would argue that "they/them/their" is incorrect, but people use it, so it might as well be).
    – maxbear123
    Jan 21 at 2:39
  • "some listeners may be misled into thinking that you have somehow deduced that the perpetrator is male and was acting alone." This is not really true. It is incredibly normal to use the masculine if the gender is unknown (and in my experience it is more common). The acting alone part is true, however.
    – maxbear123
    Jan 21 at 5:23
  • @maxbear123 It is indeed normal for people to use the masculine for unknown gender, but that doesn't mean that the listener will always understand it that way. Best to play safe and use an unambiguous term, even if it does annoy a few people who think that they know about grammar. they as a singular has been in use since 1300, it's in the Cambridge dictionary and, as you mentioned, its use is growing in popularity because of increasing gender sensitivity.
    – JavaLatte
    Jan 21 at 10:07
  • @Araucaria-Nothereanymore.so you think that it's VP ellipsis... "Whoever did [do this]" .. where did is the auxiliary verb that is required for VP ellipsis. Note that this is an answer to a question which contains two auxiliary verbs could have, whereas do is the main verb, so the auxiliary verb used in your proposed answer matches the wrong part of the question. In this case, ellipsis is not valid and you have to make a new sentence using do as the main verb "whoever did this/it", and you cannot omit just the object of a verb..
    – JavaLatte
    Jan 24 at 5:28
  • 1
    @Araucaria-Nothereanymore. OK I accept your point. I have updated my answer.
    – JavaLatte
    Jan 24 at 9:20

The sentence in the OP's question “Whoever did, we'll find them" is grammatically acceptable.

Most native speakers will use the auxiliary "do" to avoid repeating a verb phrase which has already been mentioned, this is especially handy when the verb phrase is long.

(A) Who has done the washing, the ironing, the cooking and the tidying up?
(B) It wasn't me
(A) Whoever has (OR) did, deserves a medal.

In the above example, has or did are placeholders and what we have is now an elliptical sentence.

Whoever did [the washing, the ironing, the cooking and the tidying up], deserves a medal.
Whoever has [done the washing, the ironing, the cooking and the tidying up], deserves a medal.

As explained in JavaLatte's answer, the pronoun it could be added which would replace a phrase, let's say, “that crime”.

  1. Whoever did it, we'll find him

We could also use the determiner those in “those crimes” and omit the plural noun “crimes”:

  1. Whoever did those [crimes], we'll find him.

However, the OP's clause works perfectly fine without any pronoun following the auxiliary did.

Here's another example of using did that helps the writer avoid repeating the same verb phrase "chew gum". It's taken from an old Cambridge B2 exam paper, and in this case, adding the pronoun it would be completely incorrect.

We still tend to think chewing gum is a fairly recent invention, even though there is evidence it was used 5,000 years ago in Finland. The ancient Greeks also chewed gum, as did the Aztecs in Mexico during the sixteenth century.

If we removed did the sentence would look like this:

The ancient Greeks also chewed gum, and the Aztecs chewed gum in Mexico during the…

The sentence above is perfectly grammatical but sounds repetitive and redundant.


Yes it is correct, although it is a reduced form. (That is, some words have been omitted that traditional grammar would normally use.) It is a bit terse, but that happens in speech. I think that "Whoever did it" or "Whoever it might have been" would be better, but that is a matter of style.

  • 2
    elide means "to not pronounce a particular sound in a word": I think that you actually meant ellipsis- omitting words. Omitting the object pronoun is not at all normal in answer ellipsis. Do you have and references to back up your opinion? Here is a useful introduction to ellipsis: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ellipsis_(linguistics)
    – JavaLatte
    Jan 21 at 10:15
  • 1
    @JavaL as cab be seen here elide can mean " to leave out of consideration : omit" or "abridge" See also "collinsdictionary.com/us/dictionary/english/elide" In short it can mean omitting words as well as sounds. I never use "ellipsis" as a verb, but always "elide". I mostly use "ellipsis" for the 3-dot symbol, or sometimes for the process of elision. Jan 21 at 15:53
  • You are definitely confused. The two words have completely different etymological origins: latin ex-ladedere (crush out) -> elide, elision and greek elleipein (leave out) -> ellipsis. In a lingustic context, they are not interchangeable: elision means the omission of sounds from a word, and ellipsis means the omission of repeated words from a sentence. There are two verbs for ellipsis depending on the meaning: for grammar, you say "to ellipt" and in computers and printing, when you replace words by three dots, that's "to ellipsize". Neither word appears in the Cambridge dictionary.
    – JavaLatte
    Jan 21 at 23:51
  • 1
    @JavaLatte I never said that the words hve the same etymology. But "elide" has more than one sense, and several dictionaries indicate it means "to omit" in general, as well as "to omit sounds from a word" in particular.I will add as a life-time computer professional, I don't think I ave ever heard anyone say "to ellipsize", most often it is "to use an ellipsis" or occasionally "to elide".. I am not in the least confused, I know exactly what I am saying and why. I might be mistaken, but I do not think so. Jan 22 at 0:03
  • 1
    @Araucaria I have just edited this. Is it now likely to be clear to readers, in your view? Jan 24 at 2:01

I think this is grammatically correct, but regardless of the relevant grammatical rules, this is very unnatural.

To begin with, "Whoever did" is very similar to "Who could have done this?" and feels awkward due to the repetition (some might disagree here), but it also just sounds awkward on its own. Ignoring the context, this sentence would be more natural if written in the following ways:

"Whoever did this will be found."

"We will find whoever did this."

The best version in this context would probably be:

"Whoever did will be found."

  • Why do you think switching to passive voice is important?
    – JavaLatte
    Jan 21 at 2:37

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