In her famous Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation and at the grammarbook.com site, Jane Straus gives the following examples and brief explanations of the use of whoever and whomever:

1.Give it to whoever/whomever asks for it first.

He asks for it first. Therefore, whoever is correct.

2.We will hire whoever/whomever you recommend.

You recommend him. Therefore, whomever is correct.

3.We will hire whoever/whomever is most qualified.

He is most qualified. Therefore, whoever is correct.

On reading this, I tried to come up with more complicated situations, and here is the one which puzzled me:

My dad said: Give the money to whoever/whomever who you are sure can't get by without it.

My speculation: My next door neighbors need the money badly and I'm sure they can't get by without it. So I give it to them. Therefore, whomever is correct.

My dad said: Give the money to whoever/whomever who you are sure can't get by without it.

My speculation:They need the money badly, and I'm sure that it's "they" who can't get by without it. So I give the money to those who can't get by without it. Therefore, whoever is correct.

But can it really be that the both sentences are correct? I doubt that. There must be a flaw in my speculations. Where is it?

Any help will be greatly appreciated.

  • @BillJ Sure isn't a verb but an adjective, so it doesn't take an object. The relativizer represents the subject of sure's (reduced) complement sure [that] _ want it: you're sure that they want it. So the relativizer takes the subject case, whoever. Jun 14, 2016 at 18:01
  • @BillJ 'sOK -- I've been wrestling with an answer to this and have succeeded in confusing myself entirely! The really gnarly question is what do you with this? Give it to ???ever you want to have it?, where the subject of have is 'raised' to object of want. You desire that he should have it, but you want him to have it. Jun 14, 2016 at 18:11
  • 2
    First, you don’t need the word “who” after “whoever/whomever”, since they already mean “the person who/whom”. The answer is that the function of the relativised element here is subject of the embedded that- clause (which is functioning as complement of the adjective “sure”), so subjective case “whoever” is correct; think of it as you are sure (that) __ can’t get by without it, where gap represents “the person”.
    – BillJ
    Jun 14, 2016 at 18:14
  • @BillJ I've raised the raising question (or I'm raising the raised question) on ELU. Jun 14, 2016 at 18:54
  • @StoneyB Please, it's beer o'clock here, which probably explains my earlier lapse!
    – BillJ
    Jun 14, 2016 at 18:59

1 Answer 1


I will try to apply the rules she gives.

Since the entire whoever/whomever clause is not the subject of a verb that follows it, we cannot apply rule 2. We look to rule 1.

Rule 1 says that the presence of whoever/whomever indicates a dependent clause. This is that clause

whoever/whomever you are sure can't get by without it

Whoever/whomever must agree with the verb in that dependent clause, regardless of the rest of the sentence.

whoever/whomever you are sure can't get by without it

I remove "you are sure" because it does not affect subject-verb agreement because you are not the one who can or cannot get by with out the money.

whoever/whomever can't get by without it

I apply the he/him rule.

he can't get by without it.

He = whoever, so I believe the answer is whoever,.

  • Convoluted, but correct conclusion! The relative wh- word represents the subject of the embedded complement clause, and subject pronouns of finite clauses are always subjective case of course.
    – BillJ
    Jun 14, 2016 at 18:35
  • I had to use the rules given in OP's text since he referenced it. I cannot assume he/she knows concepts outside of the referenced page like relativized, complement clause, etc. I don't even know what those mean. So although my answer could be shortened using those specialized terms, it's not useful to OP if OP doesn't know what I'm talking about. Thanks for the feedback though.
    – Em.
    Jun 14, 2016 at 18:42
  • @probablyme: Please rest assured that to me, the OP, your answer is crystal clear and I upvoted it. Thanks ever so much.
    – Victor B.
    Jun 14, 2016 at 19:18
  • @Rompey. That's great, but do you understand it grammatically, because that is crucial to having a good understanding of relative clauses?
    – BillJ
    Jun 14, 2016 at 19:41
  • @BillJ I think I do understand or rather I am close to understanding and I'm eager to read the answers to StoneyB's latest question on ELU. Thanks for asking.
    – Victor B.
    Jun 14, 2016 at 19:50

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