Submitted by José  •  December 2, 2012

who vs. whom

I watched some movies over the weekend, and by doing so some questions arose regarding the use of who and whom.

In the movie “Prometheus” one of the main characters is describing the reason of traveling to a planet so far away from earth, and a suporting character says: “We are here because of a map you two kids found in a cave?” - “Not a map, an invitation” - “From who?”

Now, I think the guy is asking for the object. Is he not? Also, I understand that whom must be used after a preposition. Then shouldn’t it be “from whom”?

In the movie “X-Men: First Class” two CIA agents are conversing and the following dialogue takes place: “A war is about to begin.” - “I know. But a war with who?” Same as the other one: Shouldn’t “whom” be used here? “with” is also a preposition, and he is also asking for the object.

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Yes, we'd normally use whom after a preposition, but a lot of us don't use it simply because it's the object - for me, "Who do you love?" is a lot more natural than "Whom do you love". In your examples, they could have just put the preposition to the end - "Who from?", and "Yes, but who with?". Few people use whom when the preposition is stranded like that. The purists won't like it of course, but tant pis.

In TEFL we always teach students to use whom after a preposition, but your second example is quite interesting. I think I'd also say "Yes, but a war with who?" here. But I can't really give you a reason why we it seems more natural (to me) to break the preposition rule there. Consider this dialogue:

A: Have you heard? Pam's going out with Martin.
B: (disbelieving) - She's going out with who?

I can't imagine many people using whom in that reply. The only thing I can think of is that it is something to do with the fact that who comes at the end, but I can't explain why that should make a difference.

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You will rarely hear a whom in informal (General North American) English, thought it occasionally occurs in examples like these - after a preposition. We prefer the unmarked who in most cases. There's no 'should' about it - it's just what comes naturally, as Warsaw Will said.
The case marking rule for who/whom applies to formal/edited English, in which case your editor or proofreader would probably suggest changing some of these to whom. But a scriptwriter would want to make his or her characters sound natural and informal for the most part. Movies are a good place to learn about the grammar of spoken informal to semi-formal English.
This looks like an interesting blog. I just found it, and I'll bookmark it. Thanks.

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There used to be a quiz show, hosted by Johnny Carson, called "Who do You Trust?" "Correct" would have been "Whom do You Trust?" Just saying.

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@Jiva - the fact that "whom" is correct in formal language doesn't make "Who do you trust" incorrect, unless you think the vast majority of educated speakers are wrong. When did you ever hear a native speaker start a question with "whom"? From whatever part of the English-speaking family.

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As a purist I can only say AARRGGGHH!!!!

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I don't really know the extent of this rule or whether it is foolproof but I was taught that if you can either answer the question or replace the word [who/whom] with "him" or "her" or "them", then it's "whom" and if you can only answer/replace it with "he", "she" or "they" then it would be "who"

An example:
"I do not know [who / whom] she means."
If you can turn that sentence into a declarative one (answer it) with "She means he" or "She means they" then it would be "who" (doesn't sound right to use "he", "she" or "they") but "She means him." works, so the correct usage would be "I do not know whom she means." -- I realize upon typing this out that to other people that may seem very convoluted, but for some insane reason, it seems to work in my head. "Do not ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee." but it could also toll for him or her or them, but not for he or she. I dunno. Makes perfect sense to me. :-)

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@Robbert Forbes MacGregor - yes, that's the rule that's often taught in the US, and is repeated on many writing sites. But you won't find that rule on many ESL or EFL websites, for the simple reason that hardly anyone speaks like that nowadays, and ESL and EFL websites teach real current English. Most of us would say "Who does she mean?" or "I don't know whom she means.", and would find "Whom does she mean?" and "I don't know whom she means." stilted and old-fashioned. Well, we would in Britain, at least; I can't speak for the US, but I think it's true there, too.

"Whom is not used very often in spoken English. Who is usually used as the object pronoun, especially in questions: Who did you invite to the party?" Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary

http://oald8.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/dic...

"Whom is only used in written English and in formal spoken English. Who is normally used as the object of a verb or preposition, but immediately after a preposition whom is generally used: the man with whom she lived. It would, however, be more natural to say: the man she lived with." Macmillan Dictionary

http://www.macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/b...

"whom is dying out in England, where “Whom did you see?” sounds affected — Anthony Burgess (1980)" - from Merriam-Webster online dictionary (whom)

Your quote is a popular adaption of a poem by John Donne (1572 – 1631) - Meditation XVI, the last three lines of which are:

Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

A great poem but perhaps not the best guide to modern English usage. Otherwise we'd be still using "thee" and "thou".

@Hairy Scot - personally, I prefer the real English of my peers to the formalism of outdated artificial rules which have little basis in reality. I like English as it is, as I hear it around me, not as a few people think it "should be". Do you actually know anyone who would say "Whom did you speak to?" or "Whom did you invite to the party?" in normal conversation? Do you actually say them yourself? I doubt it, somehow. But if you do, don't people give you funny looks? What is so wrong with the English of the vast majority of educated speakers that it makes you want to go "AARRGGGHH!!!!" ?

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Sorry, silly misuse of copy and paste in that last one - I meant, of course - Most of us would say "Who does she mean?" or "I don't know who she means.", and would find "Whom does she mean?" and "I don't know whom she means." stilted and old-fashioned.

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Loving English, as many rules as I can understand and remember seem important to me, so sometimes I do say, "Thee" and maybe "Thou," but not accidentally. Understanding a rule can help me have more tools. Such an understanding, can help me understand the other guy more too. I try to follow rightly with "who / whom," and with "Farther / Further" too.

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@Warsaw Will
Perhaps you could consider the reverse of your question?
Your mantra "formalism of outdated artificial rules which have little basis in reality" is oft quoted by those too lazy or ignorant to follow any kind of rules or structure in their use of the language.
All too often what might be considered minor deviations are merely the thin edge of the wedge and lead to glaring misuse and deterioration of the language.
I'm sure you can think of many such cases so I will not waste space by listing examples.
You need only stop and listen for five minutes in any shopping mall, or read a few fora (forums) on the net.
Finally, what is it that makes you and those who think like you believe that you are correct and those who think otherwise wrong?

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@Hairy Scot - to take your last point first. When have I ever said that people who follow the formal rules of grammar are wrong? That is nonsense. The boot is usually on the other foot. It is us (or we if you prefer) who use normal expressions like "I don't know who you mean", who are usually accused of being wrong. No descriptivist that I know of criticises formal use of language. Rather we defend the standard informal forms, and refuse to accept that they are somehow "incorrect".

I doubt very much that "those too lazy or ignorant to follow any kind of rules or structure in their use of the language" are likely to come out with a statement like "formalism of outdated artificial rules which have little basis in reality", to be honest. I am very well aware of the rules, but I am also very aware that many of these so-called rules are pretty arbitrary, and can often be traced back to one person's whim. Furthermore, many of these rules apply to formal language, which is not what we use in normal discourse.

It basically all boils down to how you understand 'rules'. My understanding of grammatical rules is that they are the structures that enable us to communicate efficiently. They have been formed over centuries of use and can and do change. I see no reason why the English of a particular group of people at a particular period of English (that of the prescriptivists in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries) should be carved onto tablets and taken as something immutable.

So by my definition of rules (which is more or less that of linguistics) the following are ungrammatical, because the majority of native speakers would find them so:

*The man died the dog bit.
*Mary beautiful is.
*Mike had bitten off more than he could chewed.

Whereas the following sentences are grammatically perfectly acceptable to most of us:

She's the woman who I told you about.
Hi, it's me. I'll be a bit late home tonight.
If anyone needs me, tell them I'll be back in half-an-hour.
This is the car which broke the land speed record.
Anybody that says that is an idiot.
Edinburgh is further from London than Newcastle.

Yet all of these are considered "wrong" by certain people.

As to "deterioration of the language", this is purely subjective, and I would suggest is the sort of "rear-view-mirrorism" we all indulge in from time. It has absolutely no foundation in linguistics. How can you call a language that is constantly evolving and increasing its vocabulary at such an astonishing rate "deteriorating"? And when exactly was this golden age when English was at the peak from which it is apparently declining?

Personally, I prefer to "enjoy" my language (as Stephen Fry puts it) for what it really is, rather than carping at other people's use of it and insisting on the use of outmoded or over formal grammatical forms in normal discourse. I highly recommend Fry's paean to the English language here. He says it a lot better than I can.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J7E-aoXLZGY

And you never answered my question: do you yourself often use "whom" in questions in your normal everyday speech? Do you practise what you preach? :)

@jiva - farther / further - even Fowler didn't accept that one. While we all use "further" to speak about more or additional - "We'll need to speak further about this" - the restriction to using only "farther" for distance is a purely artificial rule, invented by one man, Henry Bradley, an editor at the OED. This restriction had no basis in literature or usage, and it never took hold in the UK, for example, where most of us use "further" for everything, as indeed Fowler predicted we would.

http://books.google.com/books?id=2yJusP0vrdgC&a...

I think I'm in danger of competing with D.A.W. in the length stakes.

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Re: "Finally, what is it that makes you and those who think like you believe that you are correct and those who think otherwise wrong?"

Kettle, meet pot.

(sorry, I just couldn't resist:)

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@Warsaw Will

As a matter of fact I do try to keep to what I believe is correct.
If that amuses some then so be it.
I would never presume to correct anyone with whom I was having a conversation even if he or she were to make the most glaring errors, nor would I cry "pedant" if someone were to point out that I had perhaps committed a faux pas.
I do not agree with the "free spellers", the "relaxed grammarians", or those who would have us eschew the use of what they term "latinates", but I would never attempt to force my views on them.
I too enjoy my use of the language and part of that enjoyment comes from the unique twists and peculiarities that come from the varying influences that have shaped it over the years.
It is a source of puzzlement to me that so many people take it upon themselves to pronounce certain rules as artificial or outmoded if those rules contradict their view.
I also find it strange that any educated person would wish to support what many see as the gradual dumbing down of the language that has been intensifying over the last 20 or 30 years,

@porsche
I have rarely, if ever, said that anyone posting on this forum was wrong in holding an opinion contrary to mine on any issue regarding the language or its use.
But I will state my views and I have often pointed out that the descriptivists are even more dogmatic than the prescriptivists in supporting their point(s) of view.

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Not quite the jovial mea culpa I was expecting, well, hoping for:)

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@porsche
Sorry about that. I do take your point, but I may have forgotten to take my tolerance pill today.
:-))

As a purist, and possibly a pedant, my earlier AARRGGGHH!!!! was intended as self deprecating, but the subsequent lecture triggered a reflex action.

I believe that this forum is about discussing the grey areas of the English language, so it is perhaps inappropriate for any of us to attempt to define anything as black or white.

In any case, may I wish all reading this a Very Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

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@Hairy Scot - "It is a source of puzzlement to me that so many people take it upon themselves to pronounce certain rules as artificial or outmoded if those rules contradict their view."

Let's be clear about one thing first. On the vast majority of grammatical rules we are no doubt all in agreement, and I can assure you I'm not a "free-speller", nor do I think I'm a "relaxed grammarian". But there are a few so-called rules, some examples of which I gave above, which I believe to be optional or more applicable to formal language. It is not so much that these 'rules' contradict my view, as they contradict the reality of English as she is spoken by the majority of educated speakers. My previous post was certainly not meant to be a lecture, but to suggest that we have a different philosophical position in what constitutes grammar, that's all.

In my job, we have to make sure that we are teaching foreigners grammar that is accepted as correct by the vast majority of native speakers, and language that will sound natural and won't be seen as old-fashioned or over-formal. And where necessary we teach them the difference between formal and normal use, as with "whom". My view on this is absolutely in accordance with EFL and ESL teaching.

And I nearly always try to give references to back my position, but I see very few of these coming from the other side. Did you look at the Stephen Fry piece, by the way? Anyway, for some light Christmas reading, here are three more, from the website Motivated Grammar:

http://motivatedgrammar.wordpress.com/2011/03/0...
http://motivatedgrammar.wordpress.com/2010/03/0...
http://motivatedgrammar.wordpress.com/2009/03/0...

And all the best for the festive season to you and everyone else :)

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@W Will
Thanks for the references. I'll try to have a look at them.

I think I have mentioned in the past my respect for your credentials in your field, and I must emphasise that my comments are not aimed at you personally but are intended more as a general impression.
My main complaint is really with the media where even the broadsheets and the good old beeb, which used to be bastions of the English language have been subject to a drop in standards of the past few years, and with our politicians who have become a very poor advertisement for our education system.

I must make a New Year's resolution to stop being a grumpy old man. :-))

All of the best for Xmas and the coming year.

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@Hairy Scot - I accept that there has been a problem with grammar teaching in schools. But it's a thorny problem: how do you teach grammar in a way that's relevant to children, in a way that doesn't stifle them, as traditional grammar teaching did to a certain extent? How do you teach Standard English in a country where it is estimated that less than 15% have Standard English as their maternal language, without denying a person's background? It seems a comparative approach seems to work best.

In an article I read recently, a linguist concerned with English teaching pointed out that
the EFL / ESL publishing world has largely agreed on a systematically codified descriptive grammar, which is missing from native-speaker teaching.

"Standard English is highly codified for foreign learners by commercial publishers. But at present it is not at all codified for UK learners. At one time linguists might have argued that this doesn’t matter, because we don’t need a description of our own language; such descriptions are of purely scientific interest. But that argument was always a bad one because Standard English is not the native language of about 90% of the population in the UK (and I imagine the situation is similar in other English-speaking countries). "

http://www.phon.ucl.ac.uk/home/dick/SEhudson.htm

Sorry, but you won't be surprised to hear that I'm not convinced about the broadsheets and the beeb dumbing down; I think they are simply reflecting the language of their readers and listeners rather more than they used to. Remember that for years, the BBC was a bastion of RP, an accent that is only spoken by about 2% of the population. Isn't there a case for saying that the BBC should reflect the language of its licence payers, in all its diversity, rather than the language of the elite? Personally I welcome this opening up, but I doubt we'll ever agree on the that one.

And lastly I would just point to the phenomenon of blogging. More people than ever before are writing regularly, and others are reading. Surely the fact that so many people want to write is a sign of health in the language, not of deterioration?

Have a good one. :))

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English is a lot less formal in spoken form than written, even if it's sometimes incorrect. It kind of distracts the viewer if the Big Bad suddenly says, "Whom did you kill?" Sometimes I watch movies and I just think "No, I would never tell English-learners to see this in order to improve their language skills."

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There seems to have been one seem too many there.

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written versus spoken.

It "sounds" stilted, to this speaker of American English, to here "whom" without a preposition preceding it. (But the verb is inherently using an object, the person who writes, whom did you like, tells us.)

In uneducated quarters in the U.S., you will hear "I and Diane went to the store" spoken. (That is the moment that my dentist makes a downpayment on a boat. He knows I'll need a cap on that molar.)

Which is worse, the unfortunate use of the language or the people who insist on correcting the errant speaker?

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I personally get pleasure from following the rules of english -- it makes the game of communication more fun for me. In knowing the rules, I can choose when to follow them for the greatest effect. For example, if I choose I can purposefully break the rules in order to prove a point or "turn up the volume" on a problem in a tongue-in-cheek way that allows me to secretly express a belief system to others who are "in the know". If I say "I are a English Teechur. People like we is is gets to break the rules." It focuses a lens on several different facts. First, I must know the rules in order to break them. Second, I've broken them humorously which lets you all know that I mean no real malice in my jovial use of this lens -- it gives you and I a way to break the proscenium that lies between reader and author and allows you onto my stage as it were in order to participate in the drama that will unfold by my using a persecutor's stance to act as hero and bring all victims to our shores. What part you play in that drama is up to you. You can choose to laugh with me while joining in the fun, rail at me as your jailer, or hang your head in disgust and say that I should not break such rules as my breaking them is akin to blasphemy. Playing fast and loose with the rules can only be done by knowing them. They key is to make the effort to know them so you can choose when to use them and when not to use them. Admittedly, I know all or at least most of the rules, and sometimes when I break them I am doing so on purpose. Sometimes I simply make mistakes or don't wish to make the effort to diagram each of my sentences in my head to ensure accuracy. I figure as long as I can clearly get my point across or understand what you are trying to say, the rules are less important than the act of communication. When my breaking of the rules confuses another or another's breaking of the rules causes me to wonder if they know the rules and are just being lazy or they are breaking them on purpose then listening stops between the two of us and communication cannot happen. People who are afraid of others getting too lazy with the rules so that we are unable then to communicate with each other are most likely just resistant to change or feel that they themselves have a difficult time rising above the rules and listening to the message that is being imparted. Maybe they feel like their own abilities to communicate are dependent on the rules being in place. I do not feel that way -- the biggest thing I personally fear is words losing their meaning. Advertisers use much hyperbole and obfuscation of definitions of words that are causing our individual words to lose their impact and meaning. It causes me great sadness to hear judges on American Idol say "You, Sheila are one of the best singers we have had to date in this competition." and then to watch Sheila beaming as this compliment is read by her mind to mean "In a skill ranking of all singers in this competition to date I am in the very top echelon!" when in reality all that judge has truly communicated is "You, Sheila, are a contestant on this program.". Think about that. All of the singers on the program are considered to be starting from a level of "good" -- there is no ranking beneath that if you're on the program. As long as you are on the program, you are at least good. All of the singers therefore rank in a list, that list could just as easily be called "A List Of All Singers" or "A List Of The Worst Singers" Kelly Clarkson might be listed as one of the least worst, but she's still one of the worst and one of the best -- the list is meaningless and therefore the statement "You are one of the best" is meaningless.
I fear we are coming to a time when people can say anything they like and we will morph the meaning of their statement into what we want to hear. Most if not all of us use this "trickery" all the time when we want to spin something so that another person can hear it. Lying in this way is epidemic and it frightens me. We must strive to get to a place where words mean something specific again -- a 'gold standard' if you will. I do not see our ability to truly communicate with each other surviving eternally or even a whole lot longer if we avoid putting these stakes in the ground. We continually invent new words that suggest a concept rather than defining a thing. I hear people all the time saying "Oooh! I *love* to wear BLING! Girl! Everything I have is covered in bling from top to bottom!" when "bling" is not something you can wear, it is the effect of light on a shiny object. It is onomatopoeia for a trick of the light. You can wear things that create that trick of the light, and that sound exists, but the trick of the light is only associated in our minds with that sound. What you define as bling is not necessarily what I would define as bling -- and in that trick of the light, an advertiser on the radio can say "Come to our store and find all your favorite bling!" and this creates a vision in the listener's mind of what the store has to offer -- as if they've read the listener's mind. The listener may never even go to that store, but they associate a good feeling with it -- and then when a friend asks where to go (or worse -- that listener goes on to Yelp.com and decides to review a store they've never been to because of the amazing things they *must* have) they tell that friend to go to this store because it's so awesome. A friend's recommendation of a place needs to be grounded in reality -- and we are living our lives virtually and spiraling down to a place which has no meaning -- and though I don't believe in Hell, if there is one, that will at least be one component of Hell for me.

</diatribe><action=exit soapbox>

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[Looks Up][mutters: "King of the run-on sentence"]

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@RFG - I presume you're playing with the rules with your definition of bling, as it doesn't seem to gel with any definition I've seen, although it looks as if you might be right about the origins:

expensive, ostentatious clothing and jewellery: look at the bling he’s already wearing on his left arm - (Oxford Dictionaries Online)

flashy jewelry worn especially as an indication of wealth (Merriam-Webster Online)

flashy, ostentatious jewelry; "the rapper was loaded with bling" (The Free Dictionary)

also bling-bling, by 1997, U.S. rap slang, "wealth, expensive accessories," a sound suggestive of the glitter of jewels and precious metals (cf. German blinken "to gleam, sparkle"). (Etymology Online)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningengli...

Your reading of "one of the best" is unusual, to say the least. It's all comparative, you know (pun intended). Finally, I think you mean endemic rather than epidemic, perhaps? Or were you playing with us again? In fact the more I read it the more I wonder if your whole post isn't one enormous game to catch us out.

Happy Christmas :)

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I like to italicize portions of my comments for emphasis and since I can't find a way to italicize here, I'm putting _underscores_ before and after words to indicate where I would have placed emphasis. I'm effectively testing to see if you all get angry with me for that and start throwing internet monkey poo at me for doing it. If you would prefer that I _not_ use this convention, I'll behave.

First, thank you for the proper use of my initials! :-)

Re: playing with the rules with my definition of bling -- Yes inasmuch as I didn't look it up and instead just defined it via my own sense of what the people around me (in North Texas mostly mid-forties Moms who say such things) seem to define it as.

The other night I was at a Christmas party and a little girl was wearing a very whimsical outfit which included a pink ballerina outfit with high-top sneakers. Her sneakers were covered in tiny silver sequins and her Mother was saying "...she loves bling! Anything sparkly and shiny!" in reference to the shoes.

I would assume that the shoes were slightly more expensive than their non-sequined counterparts, but they wouldn't fit inside the definition of jewelry or 'expensive' (though again the meaning of the word expensive is relative (per the rest of my post) in that technically that word doesn't really mean anything objectively. If the shoes were an expense, then they were 'expensive' in the most technical definition of the word.)

Re: my reading of "one of the best" really comes from my spending too much time in Marketing departments and hearing co-workers of mine get asked questions like "Can we say 'experience the difference with __________' " and having those co-workers then send an email to the Legal Department who subsequently bless the 'difference' statement 'because that statement doesn't put us in a position we would legally have to defend,' (read: 'It means nothing')

I heard an advertisement the other day that said "Plato's Closet where you can find gently used name brands at up to 50 to 70% less than mall prices" which ostensibly means that the very cheapest price you'll find on that item in any building called 'a mall' will be _at most_ 70% more than you _might_ be able to find that same exact product in their store. (???) They might as well just imitate a Caveman and say "Ugh. We Got Stuff You Maybe Like To Try? We Put Price On It We Think Low Enough You Buy Now. Come And Look Please Because We Lonely And Afraid We Go Out Of Business. We Have A Cute Store Name." That advertisement might _actually_ be more effective in terms of increased sales.

Re: 'endemic' vs. 'epidemic': You are correct, and no I wasn't playing a game, that's just one of those places I let my passion get the better of me and I made a mistake. Thank you for correcting that.

Re: my whole post being one enormous game to 'catch us out' (I love that word-usement you structured!) As much as I would love to consider myself to be _that_ clever, the answer is 'No'. I didn't intend for my whole post to be a game. I'm just a person who has several things 'wrong with me' that the psychiatric community all consider to be disorders of one type or another. My living with these 'disorders' (I call them 'super powers' but that is only because I prefer to think of myself as being not pathologically disordered and broken) over the last forty-one years has exercised my brain synapses to the point where -- when I become passionately engaged in some activity (like writing that post above) -- I can get a bit _too_ passionate and lose the ability to 'stay inside the lines'. That may, from time to time, really start to bother people in a forum like this -- but I've really enjoyed perusing this site over the past few days and would very much like to stay if I can. :-) You all seem very clever and like worthwhile Human Beings.

If you'll forgive the occasional (and occasionally pervasive) mistakes in my posts, I will most likely not cause any _other_ types of major controversy and we can all be internet acquaintances (a.k.a "friends"). "Loki The Trickster" I am not.

In the words of Tiny Tim, "Please, Sir. May I have some more?"

Happy Christmas to you and yours.

RFG

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@RFMacG - As a Scot, I really shouldn't have missed out your patronym, sorry. I agree with you that it is a shame that there seems to be no way to add bold and italic etc, and I'm sure nobody will object to your underscores. And if I could just comment on one of my own bugbears: thank you for breaking your second comment up into chunks. I don't know about anyone else, but I find it makes it much easier to read. Just saying! (That'll annoy someone, no doubt!)

Oh, and I Iiked the closing HTML tags in your first comment - perhaps you should put these forward for consideration for HTML5. :)

re: bling - I might agree with you that it's not so much the expense as the showiness. Anyway, here's a peculiarly British take on bling-bling: - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSNK-9v7_JI

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here is a fun link, whether you already understand the distinction between "who" and "whom" or not! after starting the e-lesson, the topic is discussed on page 5, but I would start from the beginning: www.linguicon.com/schools/students/grammar/grammar-2-050/

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All of us whom-disdainers have apparently been getting it wrong all along. According to a survey at Wired Magazine, men using 'whom' in their profiles on certain dating sites get 31% more responses from women than those who don't.

http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=10398

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@Warsaw Will,

But the question remains: are those men who do use it using it correctly?

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Putting the following
_ADP_ whom , _ADP_ who
in to the Ngram viewer of usage in books shows that even in writing the use of whom has been declining, although for some reason it it not matched by a similar increase in who after a preposition, which seems to have upticked only recently.

I wonder whether Hemingway would today have written "Who the bell tolls for", or whether "To whom it may concern" will one day fall into disuse or remain as a fossil.

@Jasper: correct use of "whom" is the essence of non-dysfunctional relationships.

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@Jasper - the survey just counted the number of instances, not correct usage. But I think most people who do use whom use it correctly. There's so-called hypercorrection of course - 'Whom shall I say called' - which purists would call an error, but not everyone agrees on that one.

@jayles - Hemingway may have written the novel 'For whom the bell tolls' but he took the title from a poem by John Donne (1572-1631), the last three lines of which are:

Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

Don't think you can really mess around when quoting the greats.

As for 'to whom', I would still put 'whom' after a preposition (the only time EFL books insist you use it), and you can't really strand the preposition here, as in a question - 'To whom are you writing / Who are you writing to'. In any case it's such a fixed (and relatively formal) phrase that I think it'll stay around quite a bit yet. For example I tend to use 'If I was' (rather than 'If I were') in hypothetical conditionals, but probably wouldn't say 'If I was you, I'd ...' - 'If I were you' is such a fixed phrase.

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