What the non-cooperatives were told was 'Ok it's been nice knowing you...' said by he who was/is in charge. (sentence copied from this link)

I was just wondering why it's "by he who", not "by him who"?

Generally if we remove the clause the sentence will be - * "...." said by him*

And the clause is modifying the pronoun, adding some extra information to him.

What is the grammatical explanation?

  • 3
    "by he who..." is not correct under the traditional rules of English grammar. "by him who" is correct; your intuition is correct.
    – apsillers
    Commented Dec 22, 2014 at 17:38
  • This is a messy corner of today's English. A lot depends on the style and register that it is being used in. Personal pronouns modified by relative clauses, er, yes, it is a very interesting corner, one that is supposedly going through a grammatical journey, and is in the middle of it, and may or may not end up in a certain place, though, what we today care about is where it is now. And that current place is rather unclear. Though, there's good discussions to be had. :)
    – F.E.
    Commented Dec 22, 2014 at 20:51
  • 1
    @F.E. I learned today (thanks to you) that this is a contentious issue, similar to (but perhaps less popular than) subject vs. object forms with verbs of being ("It is I" v. "It is me"). The traditional rules of "standard English" (whatever that is) dictate one form, but the other is preferred by some segment of speakers. I assumed that "by he who" saw no usage whatsoever, but I was wrong. I found this ELU post quite helpful: pronoun-plus-relative is not popular in modern English, so which case appears when it is used has wavered over time. Thanks!
    – apsillers
    Commented Dec 22, 2014 at 21:30
  • Nice question! +1 Commented Dec 22, 2014 at 23:49
  • 1
    @Araucaria Trouble maker! :D
    – F.E.
    Commented Dec 23, 2014 at 3:08

6 Answers 6


As has been said in the comments, languages are constantly undergoing transformation. In cases like this, I like to use Google Ngrams. You can basically search a database of books written after 1900 for specific expressions and their frequency of use.

Link to Ngrams page

As you can see, "by him who" is vastly more popular, so I suggest using that, as @apsillers already stated in a comment.

  • 1
    Er, I'd suggest that a writer use the one that is more appropriate to the style of writing and the register.
    – F.E.
    Commented Dec 23, 2014 at 3:07

Thank you all for all your valuable inputs. Even I have been looking for some information regarding this topics. Please let me share some with you all :)

The problem concerning here is what case of pronoun - nominative or accusative - will be used when the main clause need a accusative form but the dependent clause need a nominative form. Let's consider the following sentence -

It was written by him/he who was once in my class.

Of course this sentence can be re-written in such a way so as to avoid this confusing problem. But as we are addressing this confusing issue, let's not change it please. Let it be the way it is quoted.

The main clause need an accusative form - him (It was written by him not It was written by he) but the dependent clause need a nominative form - he.

After searching a lot, I came to know choosing one over the other is not a matter of correctness as both are correct, rather a matter of style. We can use him (accusative) in informal context, while we have to use he (nominative) in formal context.

Obviously if my sentence was the following, we didn't need to think of all these -

It was written by her whom I married 2 years ago.

The reason why we don't need to think of all these while choosing the case of the pronoun is here only her is possible. The main clause need us to use her (It was written by her), while the dependent clause also need us to use her.

I found this following usage note. I know this is not exactly applicable here, but we can take some info from that note. And my answer - whatever I wrote above - is based on that. Please let me know if my understanding is wrong.

Usage Note from The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language - (Page no. 507)

i. It is I [who am at fault].

ii. It is me [who is at fault].

Example [i] follows the general rules for relative clauses, with the relative pronoun who being construed as first person singular by virtue of its anaphoric relation to I. In the less formal [ii], however, the antecedent is in accusative case, and here the first person property is not carried over to who; the latter therefore takes on the default 3rd person feature.


After a preposition follows the object case as in for him, without her etc. as a general rule. Maybe some speakers say "by he who said this" but I don't see a reason why the simple rule should be broken. I would consider "by he who" as an indication that the speaker has no experience with simple grammar.


That's very right. COCA returned with more examples of by him who over by he who. That said, the former one is more in practice.

But then, I'd like to draw your attention. the sentence in concern is reader quoting someone's comment in his/er comment! The commenter might not have paid attention to it. It's very likely to get ignored as the clause is followed by ...he who was in charge.. where 'him' does not fit.


Ex: He who makes furniture is called a 'carpenter. He who helped me on the street was a police constable. 'Who' is a relative pronoun describing a subject represented by 'Who'.


No, both are not correct. The correct form is "by him who is in charge". The whole point of having the two pronouns is to treat them separately. The first one is the object of the preposition "by". The second is the subject of the clause "is in charge".

If you replace "him who" with "whoever/whomever", it would be "whoever". In that case, it's only the one pronoun, and it is the subject of "is in charge", which is all together the object of "by". So, "by whoever is in charge".

A lot of people just think of it as one phrase not to be messed with, so they just say "he who" in every case. To them that word combination is a fancy way to say it, but they don't really understand it. There are quite a few examples of this, people using a word or construction because it sounds fancy/proper, but using it incorrectly.

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