General Writing and Grammar Help/use of "who" and "whom:"

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Question
Dear Ted,

Hi Ted, this time I need your advice.

I have slowly come to understand the difference between “who” and “whom”, but I am unsure how to use the hard earned knowledge.

For example, should I always try to be proper and say -  “For whom did you make lunch?” or should I say -  “Whom did you make lunch for?   Or, should I be completely colloquial and say -  “Who did you make lunch for?”

I would really appreciate your opinion on this matter.  

Thank you very much.

Sincerely,

Rich

Answer
Dear Rich:

For example, should I always try to be proper and say -  “For whom did you make lunch?” or should I say -  “Whom did you make lunch for?   Or, should I be completely colloquial and say -  “Who did you make lunch for?”

*** I certainly understand your dilemma.  Ultimately, this decision is yours.  I can only tell you what I do.

1.  I would use "For whom did you make lunch?"  It may sound odd the first few times you use this construction, but, eventually, you will become accustomed to both saying and hearing it.

2.  I would NEVER use "Whom did you make lunch for?"  Although the sentence is grammatically correct, its style is questionable.  You are ending your question with a preposition and that is not ideal.

3.  Often, I slip and use "Who did you make for?"  That is VERY colloquial and MOST people would find nothing wrong with it.  There are, of course, two problems:  the incorrect case of the pronoun, AND the sentence ending with the preposition.

Let's suppose that you are in a meeting with 100 other people.  You are speaking to them, and you choose the "colloquial" version.  At least 95 of the people will not notice your errors.  BUT. . .
you will be leaving a negative impression with the 5 "grammatically learned" people.

My choice is "For whom did you make lunch?"  If that is a problem, I would rephrase the question:  "I see you have extra plates on the table.  Are we expecting someone to join us for lunch?"

I have two other observations to share with you.

Whether you choose "who" or "whom," in speaking do NOT emphasize the pronoun.  You will just be calling attention to your correctness [or your mistake].  Bill O'Reilly on Fox News does this all the time and he is usually wrong. Example:  "WHOMEVER is covering up the truth will be exposed."
He was a former teacher and talks about how strict he was with his students.  I would like to be VERY STRICT with him on this point.

Secondly, while thinking about how to answer your question, another topic entered my mind, and I am certainly we have never discussed it:

ALL SUBJECTS are in the nominative case, EXCEPT for "subjects of the infinitive."  Yes, there are sentences that contain infinitives that have their own subjects.  THOSE SUBJECT MUST BE IN THE OBJECTIVE CASE.  

On the surface, having a subject in the objective case seems contrary to logic, but, after all, we are talking about the English language.

Check out this page:

http://www.dailywritingtips.com/when-a-pronoun-is-the-subject-of-an-infinitive/

Ted

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Ted Nesbitt

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I am the bibliographic instruction and reference librarian at a public college. Some members of the English department recommend me to their students. I offer assistance in grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and paragraph development. My master`s thesis concerns William Faulkner`s tragic novels. I formerly taught advanced placement English at two schools in the Philadelphia area.

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I have been one of the highest-ranked volunteers in this category for more than a decade.

Education/Credentials
B. A. and M. A in English; MSIS in Library & Information Sciences; graduate study in philosophy

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