“ ‘Yet the account of one mourner genuinely touched me. In response to the inquiry of a man who she may not have realized was a reporter, she revealed that she had met Landry at a treatment facility, and that they had become friends. (The Cuckoo’s Calling, by Robert Galbraith)

I am curious to know if who in the bold clause can be replaced by whom. I mean is it possible?

  • Short answer: No. english.stackexchange.com/questions/56/… Especially this answer: english.stackexchange.com/a/94/17956
    – Jim
    Aug 20, 2014 at 4:56
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    Note that this case is neither simple nor cut and dried, because who is part of the object predicates of both the preposition of (it's a pronoun replacement for a man) and realized in the bold clause (which uses a complex grammatical structure). Answers which treat the bold portion as an independent clause and ignore the broader context or remainder of the sentence fail to address the question fully. Aug 20, 2014 at 6:39

2 Answers 2


No, you probably shouldn't replace the writer's "who" with "whom".

Well, you physically can do that, but you probably shouldn't. For if you did, then the result would be considered by many (especially those who are teachers) to be ungrammatical.

The result would be considered to be ungrammatical (by them) because the relativized element or gap in the relative clause is functioning as a subject of an embedded content clause, and so, the relative pronoun is supposedly required (by Dialect A speakers) to be in nominative case: "who".

  • In response to the inquiry of a man(i) [ who(i) she may not have realized [ __(i) was a reporter] ], . . .

Notice that the gap in the embedded content clause is functioning as the subject: "he was a reporter." And so, the expected relative pronoun is the nominative "who".

ASIDE: But be aware that there is a dialect within today's standard English whose speakers will usually use the accusative "whom" in these types of situations. CGEL labels that dialect as Dialect B in their discussion of it on pages 466-7, subsection "(e) Subject of an embedded content clause". CGEL considers this type of usage (Dialect B) to be "grammatical in some dialect(s) only", which they mark as "%". One such example of Dialect B usage is: % those whom he thought were guilty -- page 466, [37.a]. CGEL says, on page 467:

Dialect A, which selects nominative, has more speakers and is the one recommended by the manuals, but here is no reason to say that it is inherently better or more grammatically correct than Dialect B, which selects accusative: the dialects just have different rules.

NOTE: CGEL is the 2002 reference grammar by Huddleston and Pullum et al., The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (CGEL).

  • It is fine for me to see you talking about nominative case who +1 Aug 20, 2014 at 9:10
  • +1 Wise advice :) [Although, of course, if it had to be marked for case, it would be accusative! (only joking, that's imo) - it's just that we'll never know, because who isn't consistently marked for case!(imo again)] :) Aug 20, 2014 at 22:41
  • On the other hand some better advice might be to omit the pronoun altogether!!! :) [sorry, can't resist, it's one of my favourite personal observations] Aug 21, 2014 at 19:44

A trick (not rule) that works in most of the cases of whether 'who' or 'whom' to be used.

Try using both - I and me for that sentence. If I fits, use who and if me fits, use whom. Likewise, if he fits, it's who and if him fits, it's whom.

Example of the 'first person' trick:

_ did Sarah give tickets to? ~ Sarah gave tickets to me (not I) So, the answer is whom.

In your example, we will use a 'third person' trick

In response to the inquiry of a man who she may not have realized was a reporter... ~ She did not realize (that) he (not him) was a reporter.

So, no. It cannot be replaced with whom.

A hot tip from GrammarGirl, worth mentioning here:

Substitute who with the word he. If that part of the sentence still makes sense, then who is almost certainly correct.

  • Who did Sarah give ticket to? and Whom did Sarah give ticket to are both correct. Aug 20, 2014 at 7:44
  • I disagree as the GrammarMonster does! @Man_From_India
    – Maulik V
    Aug 20, 2014 at 7:55
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    I understand it's the rule of the grammar that choose "whom" over "who" here. But still it's considered standard or even better stylistically to use "who" in Who did Sarah give ticket to? Aug 20, 2014 at 8:19
  • This means you are okay with this sentence as well- whoever this matter is concerned
    – Maulik V
    Aug 20, 2014 at 8:37
  • @snailplane again? Should I stop believing it?
    – Maulik V
    Aug 20, 2014 at 9:08

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