Someone wants me dead? I can't think of who/whom.

Should I use who or whom? Why?

  • possible duplicate of How can one differentiate between "who" and "whom"?
    – user3169
    Commented Jun 27, 2015 at 18:32
  • 3
    I think this is not a duplicate: it involves the role played by who in an ellipted relative clause, which supersedes its apparent role as object of the preposition of, and that is not addressed in the linked question. Commented Jun 27, 2015 at 19:03
  • 1
    +1, as I think this is an interesting question, especially for a weekend!
    – F.E.
    Commented Jun 27, 2015 at 20:41
  • "I have no idea who ( wants me dead)" would be much clearer. At first I didn't understand "I can't think of who/whom" at all.
    – rogermue
    Commented Jun 27, 2015 at 21:24
  • I agree that this is a really interesting question. Note that unlike with most pronouns, where the accusative form is the default, in the case of who(m), the default form is who, used when the conditions for whom are not satisfied.
    – user230
    Commented Jun 28, 2015 at 1:46

2 Answers 2


Someone wants me dead? I can't think of who/whom.

This is an interesting sentence. At first glance you would think that whom is called for, because it is the object of the preposition of.

In fact it is not the object of the preposition. The object in the example is the fused relative clause who wants me dead, which has been reduced to who by ellipsis. In that clause who represents the subject; so nominative who is the correct form.

Somebody wants me dead, I can't think of who wants me dead.

It should be pointed out, however, that idiomatically we would not use the preposition here. In this sort of context think of X has approximately the sense "remember X, call X to mind". What's wanted here is bare think, which has what appears to be the desired sense imagine, conceive.

Somebody wants me dead, I can't think who.

It makes no difference to the use of who/whom, since who still acts as subject.

  • In "I can't think of [anyone who would want me dead]", wouldn't the expression "anyone who would want me dead" be functioning as the complement of the preposition "of"? So, why wouldn't the "who" in the OP's original example, in which that "who" happens to be sitting in that corresponding spot, not also be considered to be functioning as the complement of the preposition "of"? . . . Also, perhaps the OP's example could be considered by some to correspond to "I can't think of [whom that could be]"? Just wondering here. :)
    – F.E.
    Commented Jun 27, 2015 at 20:37
  • @F.E. In your first example, anyone is the object of of (and would "properly" be cast in the objective case: I cannot think of him who wants me dead); the relative clause now modifies that object and is no longer the object of of any more than an adjective fulfilling the same role would be. Your second example I think crosses register boundaries: a register which would accept That could be him will discard whom, while a register which employs whom would also demand That could be he. . . . Commented Jun 27, 2015 at 20:52
  • There are no doubt people who sit on the fence--which to my mind is a recipe for annoying all your audience instead of just half of it. Commented Jun 27, 2015 at 20:52
  • But in the first example, wouldn't the whole expression "anyone who would want me dead" be considered to be the object of the preposition? Similar to "I can't think of [any boy who would want me dead]"? The whole NP would be the object, wouldn't it?
    – F.E.
    Commented Jun 27, 2015 at 20:58
  • 1
    To be more specific, whom is typically called for as the object of a fronted preposition.
    – user230
    Commented Jun 28, 2015 at 1:48

Prepositions in relative clauses

  1. When a relative clause includes a preposition, we can often choose whether to put it at the beginning or at the end. The latter is more common and more informal.

That's the man from whom we bought our car.

That's the man (who/that) we bought our car from.

  1. However, when the preposition is part of a phrasal verb, it always stays with the verb.

He adopted three children, whom he looked after well.

  1. Multi-word prepositional phrases can go at the beginning or end, but we don't separate the words.

We saw a café, in front of which sat several diners.

We passed a café, which several diners sat in front of.

  1. We can't put a preposition at the beginning when the relative pronoun is the subject of the following verb.

I bought a house which hadn't been lived in for years.

  1. The relative pronoun may form part of a noun phrase such as some of which, many of whom, the first of which or an adverbial phrase like at which point, for which reason, in which case.

I have three brothers, the youngest of whom is five.

He recorder more than fifty songs, many of which became hits.

The host fell asleep, at which point we left.

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