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There is nothing grammatically wrong with

'He is a man whom I look up to.'

The relative clause is non-defining, so no comma;

the relative pronoun refers to a person, so 'who', not 'which';

the relative pronoun is not the subject of the verb in the relative clause but its object, so 'whom'.

But, apart from the fact that 'whom' is rather formal, rather old-fashioned, it is not quite right either? Why?

  • Why say look up to when you can say the one-word alternative admire, which sounds better and avoids some of "those many small words" that Charlene Vickers mentions and avoids ending the sentence in a phrasal verb particle which looks suspiciously like a preposition? Even better is get rid of who(m) and say He is a man I admire. – Alan Carmack May 17 '16 at 11:32
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He is a man whom I look up to.

is not quite right because it uses a formal relative pronoun, 'whom', so a formal word, with an informal structure, the preposition after the verb rather than before the relative pronoun: as far as register is concerned, the sentence is not consistent, it is an unfortunate mixture of formality and informality, and consequently it sounds awkward; a native speaker of English is very unlikely to produce such a sentence.

He is a man to whom I look up. (formal vocabulary and formal structure)

He is a man that/ø I look up to. (informal vocabulary and informal structure)

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    "He is a man I look up to" is acceptable these days in any register. – StoneyB Feb 17 '16 at 20:47
  • @StoneyB: how about 'He is a man who I look up to.'? Doesn't it sound a bit awkward (with 'who' being slightly formal, and the preposition in end position being less formal)? – user58319 Feb 17 '16 at 21:09
  • That's fine; but who is sub-formal here, since it is the object of to. – StoneyB Feb 18 '16 at 0:34
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    I don't know any native speaker who would say He is a man to whom I look up. I'm not even sure what that means, given that look up is a different phrasal verb than look up to. – Alan Carmack Feb 18 '16 at 4:22
  • Joke: For maximum "correctness," wouldn't it have to be "He is a man up to whom I look"? – sumelic May 17 '16 at 14:45
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I agree with user58319, but I'd add that idioms ending in prepositions (such as "look up to" or "put up with") always seem clunky when used in the passive voice. My opinion - and I have no evidence that supports this - is that the combination of the passive voice and too many small words sends the reader spiralling around the meaning instead of facing it head-on.

My suggestion is to use the active voice.

I look up to this man.

or even

I admire this man.

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    But .. He is a man I look up to is not passive: it's a 'copular' main clause (which is always active) with a relative clause which is also active. – StoneyB Feb 18 '16 at 0:33

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