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Who did you give the keys to?

I know the typical structure is

Question word + auxiliary verb + subject + infinitive without to

I can understand

Why did you give the keys to him?

The 'Why did' turns the sentence 'you give the keys to him.' into a question.

What's happening with the original question because 'you give the keys to' isn't a complete sentence?

  • Did you give the keys to whom? – user3169 Jul 23 '16 at 22:12
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    To avoid the correct but somewhat stuffy-sounding construction, "To whom did you give the keys?" "Who did you give the keys to?" just sounds more natural to an average native English speaker. – Mark Hubbard Jul 23 '16 at 22:13
  • @MarkHubbard itym "average native American English speaker." Does "stuffy" mean: "Phrased clearly in as few words as possible?" What is it about the harmless and very useful word "whom" that freaks Americans out, anyway? I sometimes feel that a whole generation of Americans is playing "I'll show you!" with their doctrinaire third grade teachers. – P. E. Dant Jul 23 '16 at 22:54
  • @MarkHubbard What sentence structure is 'To whom did you give the keys'? – Lemu17 Jul 23 '16 at 23:11
  • Hahahahaha! Same number of words; less confusion. I'm actually a staunch defender of the correct use of whom, just not rabid about it. +1 for your excellent answer! – Mark Hubbard Jul 23 '16 at 23:24
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One view holds that the construction about which you ask results from a determination to avoid the use of the pronoun "Whom," even when it is the best choice, and even when avoiding it results in a sentence like yours, which ends in a preposition.

Another view holds that use of the pronoun "Whom" (see below) is forced upon us by a determination to abide by the "rule" against ending a sentence with a preposition, even when that is the best choice.

The pronoun "whom" is the form of "who" used as a direct or indirect object, and if you substitute it for "Who" in your sentence, and order the sentence properly, it looks like this:

To whom did you give the keys?

That is to say:

Question word + auxiliary verb + infinitive without to + subject

In everyday speech, though, you are likely to hear the sentence as you originally presented it, and the "rule" which forbids ending a sentence with a preposition (which is actually more appropriate to Latin than English) is routinely violated, and for good reason. A quotation usually (and probably erroneously) attributed to Winston Churchill puts it like this:

This is the sort of English up with which I will not put!

  • When do you use Who vs Whom in questions? And when should you add a preposition to the beginning? I feel like 'Who do you like?' and 'Whom do you like?' both sound correct. – Lemu17 Jul 23 '16 at 23:21
  • {{Citation needed}} on the first paragraph. In my view it would be more accurate to say that "To whom did you give the keys?" results from a determination to avoid ending the question with "to". In any case, they are logically separate: "Whom did you talk to?" is perfectly cromulent. – Colin Fine Jul 23 '16 at 23:37
  • @ColinFine The cromulence of "Whom did you talk to" is indisputable. In either case, a problem arises. Do we use the despised pronoun, or end with a preposition? I hoped that quoting Churchill would inoculate the answer against calls for citation... – P. E. Dant Jul 23 '16 at 23:45
  • I don't see a problem in either case, @P.E.Dant – Colin Fine Jul 23 '16 at 23:48
  • @Lemu17: yes, both are fine: many people today rarely or never use "whom", and some use it only immediately after "to". – Colin Fine Jul 23 '16 at 23:51
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WH-questions in English start with the WH-word.

If that is the subject of the verb, then it is normally at the start anyway:

Who fell off the wall?

but if it is not the subject of the verb, it is moved to the start, and the subject is moved after the verb, (which is put in the "do" form unless it is a form of "be" or - for some speakers - "have"):

[You went when] -> When did you go?

[You saw what] -> What did you see?

When it follows a preposition, it can move on its own, or it can take the preposition with it:

[You talked to who(m)] -> Who(m) did you talk to? or To whom did you talk?

The former is much more common in everyday speech.

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