Submitted by Jasper on July 16, 2014

Who/whom, copular verbs, and the infinitive

Now, I’ve been rolling this question over for few weeks now. I personally believe whom in the cases, but on we go. After writing most of this, I think [1] should be who now.

The infinitive phrase/clause normally takes the objective case as its “subject”.

“I wanted to meet him.”

Thus, the corresponding interrogative:

“Whom did he want to meet?”

But what happens if you take this construction and use it with a copular verb?

[1] “Who/whom am I to judge.” (?)

[2] “I am who/whom to be.” (?)

Which may correspond to the declarative sentences (U=unacceptable; A=acceptable):

[1a] “I am he to judge.”

[1b] “I am him to judge”

[2a] “I am he to be.”

[2b] “I am him to be.”

[2c] “I am to be he.” (U)

[2d] “I am to be him.”(A)

It is possible to expand them into relative clauses:

[1a'] “I am the person who can judge them.”(A)

[1b'] “I am the person whom can judge.” (U)

[2a'] “I am the person (who) you should be.” (U)

[2b'] “I am the person (whom) you should be.” (A)

The construction has two verb constructions (one copular and the other infinitive) vying for dominance. So thoughts? These conundrums are fascinating and, due to my obsessive-compulsiveness, frustrating. </p>

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@Jasper In my days we were taught that the complement is in the nominative case, and that "who" takes on the person of its antecedent; thus "It is I who am ....". Influenced by Latinate grammarians I think.
In books, the "It is I who am.." still outnumbers the rest by at least 6:1; although this may not be the case in speaking at all.

http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=It...

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https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=It+is+me+who+*&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t2%3B%2CIt%20is%20me%20who%20*%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3BIt%20is%20me%20who%20is%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BIt%20is%20me%20who%20has%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BIt%20is%20me%20who%20will%3B%2Cc0

Once we move to the more idiomatic "It is me.." , then "who" follows not the first person, but is treated as third, so the verb agrees with that.

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http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=It...*&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t2%3B%2CIt%20is%20me%20who%20*%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3BIt%20is%20me%20who%20is%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BIt%20is%20me%20who%20has%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BIt%20is%20me%20who%20will%3B%2Cc0

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@jayles,

I think you're missing the point.

Yes, formally, subject complements need to be in the nominative case, but this is not a simple: "It is I/he/she", nor does it have anything to do with cleft sentences, except in the relative clause expansions. It is however about which takes precedence in a construction with a copular verb and an infinitive phrase:

I am he/him to be. (?)
Who/whom am I to be? (?)

I would argue whom/him because I believe the infinitive phrase to take precedence. Normally when a (pro)noun precedes an infinitive phrase, it's usually in the objective case, but what if the (pro)noun follows the verb be and thus requires to be in the nominative case? Does it follow the subject complement rule or the rule that the "subjects" of infinitive clauses are to be in the objective case?

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Victoria: I am to be queen then?
Lord Melbourne: Yes, you are, ma'am.
Victoria: And who is Prince Albert to be? Who is he to be?
Lord Melbourne: He is in no way to be KIng, ma'am.
Victoria: Well, if it is not to be him, who is it to be?
Lord Melbourne: No-one, ma'am.
Prince Albert: Well, if I am not to be him, who am I to be?
Lord Melbourne: You will be the Royal Consort sir.
Prince Albert: The Royal What???

Like that?

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“Whom did he want to meet?” - Does anyone actually say that? Conversationally? Apart from in radio dramas, etc.

I have very grave doubts about your opening premise, beloved by certain grammar sites, that if the answer is 'him', it must be 'whom'. The fact is that 'whom' is rarely used in spoken English, either in direct questions or in relative clauses - . In EFL, we teach that the only time you need to use it is after a preposition. Formal written work is another matter, of course, but that's not the place I'd expect to find a sentence like “Whom did he want to meet?”, except in dialogue.

But for the sake of the game:

1 - “Who am I to judge?” - this is such a well-known expression there should be no question of using 'whom' - in any case 'who' is the subject here (not 'I'), so 'whom' would be plain wrong.

2 - “I am who/whom to be.” - sorry, but I have no idea what's going on here, nor for the rest of sentences 1a to 2d, which as far as I'm concerned, simply aren't English.

[2a'] “I am the person (who) you should be.” (U)
[2b'] “I am the person (whom) you should be.” (A)

I can't agree with your classifications here. I know we say things like 'What would you do if you were me?', but in this case 'who' is more natural - 'whom' is hardly ever used in restrictive relative clauses, even with non-copular verbs - 'He's the person who you should see' is much more natural then 'He's the person whom you should see'.

Actually the most natural thing is to leave the relative pronoun out altogether, which you can always do in restrictive relative clauses when it refers to the object - 'I am the person you should be.', 'He's the person you should see.' - problem solved!

As jayles says 'It is I who am (the boss around here)' is standard (or more likely - 'It's me who's the boss around here'). But it's not anything to do with coming after the copular verb: it's because 'who' is the subject of the following verb.

The need for a second verb to have a subject overrides everything else. Here's a common error (according to traditional grammar) - 'Whom shall I say is calling?' - take away 'shall I say' and the real question is 'Who is calling?' - the need for 'calling' to have a subject overrides the need for 'say' to have an object.

In - 'Who am I to be?' (again, rather a strange sentence) 'who' is simply the subject of 'am', not the subject complement / object of 'to be'. Perhaps a more natural example using exactly the same construction - 'OK. Who's it to be? Mandy or Sandy?' - Nobody would ever say 'Whom is it to be?'

There seems to be some confusion over subject complements and subjects here. When 'who' comes at the beginning of an interrogative sentence before 'be', it is always the subject. Even the most purist grammarian can only use 'whom' when another word appears before the verb as a subject, as in your example - 'Whom did he want to meet?'

But life's so much easier when you forget about 'whom' altogether.

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@jayles,

Yes, that's more like it. Thank you.

@Warsaw Will,

"I have very grave doubts about your opening premise, beloved by certain grammar sites, that if the answer is 'him', it must be 'whom'."

I have heard this all before. I don't care that you're descriptivist on grammar and that you don't care about standard grammar, but I do care. You don't have to spout off ESL and what's common in speech every time you answer a question. Maybe answering the question without expressing you're perspective would be better.

"1 - “Who am I to judge?” - this is such a well-known expression there should be no question of using 'whom' - in any case 'who' is the subject here (not 'I'), so 'whom' would be plain wrong."

Yes, I said in my opening statement: "After writing most of this, I think [1] should be who now."

"2 - “I am who/whom to be.” - sorry, but I have no idea what's going on here, nor for the rest of sentences 1a to 2d, which as far as I'm concerned, simply aren't English.

[1a] to [2d] is expressing [1] and [2] in various declarative sentences. How hard are they to understand? For "I am who to be", think of it as some king standing over his people and saying this sentence to mean: emulate me, aspire to be my glory.


"I can't agree with your classifications here. I know we say things like 'What would you do if you were me?', but in this case 'who' is more natural - 'whom' is hardly ever used in restrictive relative clauses, even with non-copular verbs - 'He's the person who you should see' is much more natural then 'He's the person whom you should see'. "

I'm not talking about naturalness or whether it's frequently used. Get off this descriptivist mindset and focus on the problem.

"Actually the most natural thing is to leave the relative pronoun out altogether, which you can always do in restrictive relative clauses when it refers to the object - 'I am the person you should be.', 'He's the person you should see.' - problem solved!"

I know that's why I put them in parentheses. As for "problem solved", no, that's avoiding and going around it. That is most certainly not my style. I work through it until an answer is reached.

"As jayles says 'It is I who am (the boss around here)' is standard (or more likely - 'It's me who's the boss around here'). But it's not anything to do with coming after the copular verb: it's because 'who' is the subject of the following verb."

This isn't even relevant!

"The need for a second verb to have a subject overrides everything else. Here's a common error (according to traditional grammar) - 'Whom shall I say is calling?' - take away 'shall I say' and the real question is 'Who is calling?' - the need for 'calling' to have a subject overrides the need for 'say' to have an object.

This would support the infinitive's requirement of having the objective case, but I'm beginning to think otherwise.

"In - 'Who am I to be?' (again, rather a strange sentence) 'who' is simply the subject of 'am', not the subject complement / object of 'to be'. Perhaps a more natural example using exactly the same construction - 'OK. Who's it to be? Mandy or Sandy?' - Nobody would ever say 'Whom is it to be?' "

No, "who" is not the subject of "am", but "I" is. This is basic subject-operator inversion common in interrogative sentences; if it were "who is going to the mall", then yes, but here, no.

"There seems to be some confusion over subject complements and subjects here. When 'who' comes at the beginning of an interrogative sentence before 'be', it is always the subject. Even the most purist grammarian can only use 'whom' when another word appears before the verb as a subject, as in your example - 'Whom did he want to meet?'"

Again, no, it's not... and after finding some links, may be.

http://www.englishforums.com/English/WhichUsedS...

http://english.stackexchange.com/questions/1526...

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To paraphrase a much misquoted line:-
"I don't know much about grammar, but I know what I like".


:-))

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Also from my grammar book:

"How to Find the Subject of a Sentence"

3. To find the subject in a question, turn the question into statement form.

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There is a list of copula verbs here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_English_co...

Right now I cannot see how to follow any of these with a complement and then an infinitive.

It is perfectly true that in English we often come across an infinitive preceded by an object pronoun which seems to act as the subject of the infinitive: I want him to come, I persuaded him to come, I warned him not to come, I wish him to come.

Quite how English acquired this type of construction I know not (although there is something similar in Latin, other Euro languages tend to say "I want that she go" - je veux qu'elle aille). English just seems quirky here and the structure varies from one verb to the next.

But with a copula???

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@jayles,

Although I put copular verbs, I was mainly focused on "be". As I'm sure you know, other copular verbs take objective case pronouns, e.g., I became him (not he). I probably should have simply put "be". It was a gaffe.

I'm beginning to think the subject of infinitive being in the objective case is dependent on the predicate of the main (matrix) clause. To illustrate by using [1] above:

[1] Who am I to judge?
≈I am he (the person) to judge (x).

Who is the subject complement and subject of the infinitive "to judge", but its status as subject complement takes precedence:

[1] Whom am I to judge?
=I am to judge (x/them/...)

Now [2] may be "whom" because it may actually be the object of the infinitive phrase rather than the subject of the phrase:

I am to be (him/the one/...)

I just realized I made a mistake in my initial analysis, which Warsaw Will pointed out, I believe.

"[2a'] “I am the person (who) you should be.” (U)
[2b'] “I am the person (whom) you should be.” (A)"

[2a'] is acceptable while [2b'] is not. They should be reversed. Whoops.

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Wow! Someone got out of bed on the wrong side this morning. But I'll ignore all the negative stuff and try and answer some of your points:

I'm sorry you think that some arbitrary rules that hardly any educated speakers actually follow in spoken language (which is definitely the case with 'whom') are more important than the natural idiomatic language the majority of educated speakers actually speak.

What you call 'standard grammar' is in effect formal grammar, and it is not, for example, the definition used by linguists. And my position on this is not simply of EFL, but of modern linguistics in general.

You say: No, "who" is not the subject of "am", but "I" is. This is basic subject-operator inversion common in interrogative sentences; if it were "who is going to the mall", then yes, but here, no.

Well, that is contentious to say the least. As your example shows, 'standard subject-operator inversion' is not used when 'who' refers to the subject. Why should it be any different with 'be'?

'Who hit Mandy?' subject + verb + direct object
'Who is Mandy?' subject + verb + subject complement

This is from your StackExchange link: 'Notice that there is nothing in between the auxiliary "will" and the verb "be", and so, that means that there hasn't been any subject-auxiliary inversion, and that means that the subjects are "Which" and "What". '

We could both find opinions here to support our argument, but these are both only forums: they prove nothing.

As for your other examples - you say 'How hard are they to understand?' And you give the example: 'For "I am who to be", think of it as some king standing over his people and saying this sentence to mean: emulate me, aspire to be my glory.' Well, I think that's stretching it a bit, but OK when it's explained it might be possible . But I doubt anybody actually speaks like that. There are precisely two examples in the whole Internet, neither of which have this meaning, and both of which sound distinctly odd - .

'For thy guiding hand of thee, Thou I am who to be proud'
'Who are you who do not know that I am who to be set to create him as a Prophet'

And the others:

“I am he to judge.” - one example - 'I am he to judge and he to know, I am he to rain justice upon the masses and conquer ALL!' - but one swallow doesn't make a swallow.

“I am him to judge” - no examples outside this forum

“I am he to be.” - a handful, mostly either from foreigners or misprints

(Now "I am not the one to judge" I would understand)

“I am him to be.” - no examples outside this forum, but at a pinch I could imagine Jesus saying it in the KJV (but it doesn't occur in any books)

These simply are not idiomatic English, to my ear, but more the sort of thing Yoda might come out with. But if that's what floats your boat, who am I to argue - or should that be 'whom', perhaps?

Here are a couple of (I would suggest more realistic) examples 'who' + 'be' + infinitive, where I think we can more or less rule out 'whom' (see the respective Ngram graphs):

'Who is he to tell me what to do?'
'Who am I to be treated this way?'

http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=Wh...


http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=Wh...

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One swallow doesn't make a summer!

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It's true - dear old Will does try to bludgeon us to death with his tolerance.

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@Jasper To my mind, there is a difference in the usage of "am" in the following:

A) Who am I to judge?
B) Whom am I to judge?

In A "am" is a true copula.

In B "am" is a sort of modal auxiliary: the verb "be" plus infinitive conveys something like "must", "have to", "should"; much used in business and military as in "All employees are to submit timesheets by Monday 0900 at the latest."

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@jayles,

Yes, I agree with that. Makes perfect sense.

@Skeeter Lewis,

Exactly, as regulars, we know each other's positions on certain matters. We don't need to hear restatements of those things and to get sidetracked into an issue of descriptivism vs. prescriptivism on every page.


@Warsaw Will,

"Wow! Someone got out of bed on the wrong side this morning. But I'll ignore all the negative stuff and try and answer some of your points:

I'm sorry you think that some arbitrary rules that hardly any educated speakers actually follow in spoken language (which is definitely the case with 'whom') are more important than the natural idiomatic language the majority of educated speakers actually speak."

Yes, I was angry because most of the time you post something you have to have some mention of vernacular grammar.

I don't care whether other people follow the "arbitrary" rules or not in spoken or written language; I do however care about whether I follow the "arbitrary" rules.

"What you call 'standard grammar' is in effect formal grammar, and it is not, for example, the definition used by linguists. And my position on this is not simply of EFL, but of modern linguistics in general.

When I look at a grammatical problem, I look for the formal—most standard—answer. Standard English is a gradient and I see it as such. Formal is at the most standard end and very, very informal is at the most nonstandard end. I apologize for misrepresenting your position.

"You say: No, "who" is not the subject of "am", but "I" is. This is basic subject-operator inversion common in interrogative sentences; if it were "who is going to the mall", then yes, but here, no.

Well, that is contentious to say the least. As your example shows, 'standard subject-operator inversion' is not used when 'who' refers to the subject. Why should it be any different with 'be'?

'Who hit Mandy?' subject + verb + direct object
'Who is Mandy?' subject + verb + subject complement"

Then if who isn't the subject complement, then why does the verb agree with the pronouns in these sentences?

Who am I? (am agrees with I not who)
Who are they? (are agrees with they)
Who is she? (etc.)

Third person singular agrees with who when it is subject:

[1] A: Who is going to the store?
B: I am (going to the store).

[2] A: Who likes playing basketball?
B: I do.
C: He (B) does.

"This is from your StackExchange link: 'Notice that there is nothing in between the auxiliary "will" and the verb "be", and so, that means that there hasn't been any subject-auxiliary inversion, and that means that the subjects are "Which" and "What". ' "

That's comparing apples and carrots and you know it. We are not talking about "will be" and we are not talking about "which" and "what". We are talking about simple present tense "be" and "who/whom"

"We could both find opinions here to support our argument, but these are both only forums: they prove nothing."

That's just absurd. We have the rules and we have brains; we therefore can objectively scrutinize and deduce an answer. I'm sure you'll now proudly trumpet descriptivism vs. prescriptivism because of the last sentence. So essentially the fact that they are forums means that people who are proficient and educated in grammar can't come to a conclusion? Bullshit. That's disrespectful to any person who offers an answer on forums and, frankly, anywhere. And what's to stop me from disregarding what you say? Yours is just an opinion.

"As for your other examples - you say 'How hard are they to understand?' And you give the example: 'For "I am who to be", think of it as some king standing over his people and saying this sentence to mean: emulate me, aspire to be my glory.' Well, I think that's stretching it a bit, but OK when it's explained it might be possible . But I doubt anybody actually speaks like that. There are precisely two examples in the whole Internet, neither of which have this meaning, and both of which sound distinctly odd - .

'For thy guiding hand of thee, Thou I am who to be proud'
'Who are you who do not know that I am who to be set to create him as a Prophet' "

Nobody might speak like that, yes, but no one speaks in a myriad of ways. Each person has a different diction to another's. Agreed the examples provided are odd sounding, but with a minimum of concentration, they make sense.

"And the others:

‘I am he to judge.’ - one example - 'I am he to judge and he to know, I am he to rain justice upon the masses and conquer ALL!' - but one swallow doesn't make a swallow."

‘I am him to judge’ - no examples outside this forum

‘I am he to be.’ - a handful, mostly either from foreigners or misprints

(Now ‘I am not the one to judge’ I would understand)

‘I am him to be.’ - no examples outside this forum, but at a pinch I could imagine Jesus saying it in the KJV (but it doesn't occur in any books)”

I don’t necessarily see what any of these prove. Have the sentences happened before? “Well, no, yes, no.” (The yeses and no’s are responses based on the examples above). Have there been grammatical sentences that have never been uttered? “Well, yeah.” So if grammatical sentences that have never been spoken can be formed, why does it matter that they haven’t occurred?


“These simply are not idiomatic English, to my ear, but more the sort of thing Yoda might come out with. But if that's what floats your boat, who am I to argue - or should that be 'whom', perhaps?"

The idiomaticity of the construction isn’t the point. I’m talking about the grammar of it, which can winnow through. Yoda speaks with object fronting if I recall or perhaps verb & object fronting. I would say "who" in this case and in the "to judge" one as I've stated in the post before my last.

I think the rule with infinitive is based on the commonness of an infinitive with a transitive verb. I have become more confident about this view since I encountered “Raised object” in Quirk et al., but in this construction, I think it would be more apt to describe it as a “Raised subject complement”.

“Here are a couple of (I would suggest more realistic) examples 'who' + 'be' + infinitive, where I think we can more or less rule out 'whom' (see the respective Ngram graphs):


'Who is he to tell me what to do?'
'Who am I to be treated this way?' "

I agree with the first, but the second with the passive infinitive seems very slightly questionable.

Will, I don't care about the battles and the overarching war between the two sides. Nero played the fiddle whilst Rome burned. I only care about my fiddling. I hope there isn't any animosity between us because of this. I disagree with your position, but I also respect and see some of its benefits in analyzing grammar from a new angle, as it was done in Quirk et al, which I have almost finished reading.

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@Jasper I must confess that thick as I am, I am still not entirely lucid on what exactly you are trying to clarify and why this is so important to you. Is it just that you wish these sentences to fit in with some neat boxed-up grammatical terminology?
BTW are you familiar with German or any other languages besides English?

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@jayles,

Well, for the question at hand: whether it should be who or whom in these constructions. As for importance, I like challenging problems that in some cases requires looking at them from a different angle and like having a solution wherever possible. I know that that is not always possible, but I still like to try.

Well, as an organized person, I tend to like things to be as neat as possible. I like being able to describe things precisely and in an organized way, but if the terminology isn't there or inadequate, then we need to adjust our thinking and determine how to add whatever it is that we are dealing with into grammar.

On languages, I know some facts here and there about other languages. Some words from some, but unfortunately, I don't actually know how to speak or write any other language. It's one of my regrets. I plan to teach myself German at some point however. I have a grammar book, but on my list of priorities it's low as of right now. I did read a few pages when i got it, but stopped due to homework.

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"It's true - dear old Will does try to bludgeon us to death with his tolerance." - so a mere one person standing up for a different view to the one held (and oft repeated) by the majority (which now seems to consist of about four people) is"bludgeoning you to death" is it? I am glad that the spirit of open debate is still alive and kicking.

First of all, this question was about the use of 'whom', and as this is probably the single area where traditional formal grammar is most out of kilter with normal spoken English, I think that my point there was totally relevant. Tell me honestly, who among you would say 'Whom did he want to meet?'

If I repeat the point about usage, it is because this is one of the few language forums where this is not considered important.

I may have been a bit critical of Jason's example sentences, but that was because I genuinely didn't understand them, so had some difficulty in the point he was making.

You may have noticed that activity on this forum has been pretty sparse lately, and if the intolerance now being shown by some people to those with opposing views is to prevail, I can't see this situation getting much better. From now on I'll choose the threads I comment on rather more carefully. And I don't think this will be one of them.

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@Skeeter Lewis - As we are often on opposite sides in these dicussions, I took your comment at face value. But I'm now beginning to wonder if your comment wasn't perhaps meant to be ironic, in which case I take that back.

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It was meant light-heartedly and not meant to offend.
I think both sides in this continuing debate need to take a step back. If either side expresses itself too forcefully then the good-natured, enjoyable element is lost. And I say that in a non-partisan way.

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@Skeeter Lewis - I sort of gathered after I posted - sorry. And I agree with you that both sides should take a step back. I was rather taken aback by Jason's 'I don't care' and 'spout off ESL' comments, and went into defensive mode.

@Jason - concession where concession is due. I have discovered that there is indeed a school of thought amongst linguists that 'wh' words in simple interrogatives function as complements, and so I now accept your position there (although I don't think that's the case with 'wh' relative pronouns - but I won't insist on that). I also got a bit confused between 'subject-operator inversion' (the phrase you used) and subject-auxiliary inversion (the term we normally use).

If by Quirk et al, you are talking about 'The Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language', I take my hat off to you - it's enormous)

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@Jason - I must confess I hadn't read your final concessionary paragraph until now. So sorry about that.

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Grammar, like so much in the English language, is very often more about opinions than rules.
I am sure that even noted grammarians differ on many aspects of it.
That being so, it is no surprise that mere mortals like us differ on so many points.

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We all have a lot invested emotionally in our culture, and language is the repository of so much of it. It has to do with how we see ourselves individually and collectively. One can't always be clinical about these matters.

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@Jasper Not sure I can help you here; in truth I am not very academic. However FWIW in German ( and up till William the Bastard et al came to stay English was germanic) one would say something like:

A) Who am I, that I should judge? (well actually more like: Who am I, that I judge should?)
B) Whom should I judge?
C) I want that she go.
D) Who is he, that he me tells, what I do should?
E) Who am I, that I thus treated am? or Who am I, that they me like this treat?

Perhaps you might also ponder:
F) It hangs therefrom, who it is. (It depends on who it is. Or "It depends on whom it is").
G) It comes thereon, what was said. (It depends on that, which was said.)

Sentences F/G shows the conflict in English and how other Euro languages like German, Russian, Hungarian operate so there is no issue - one must always put in "therefrom", "thereon", or whatever.

We do something similar in English with sentences like:
Those whom God hath joined, let no man put asunder.
He who dares wins.

English had lost many inflections since 1066 (and before) so what we have left are often unneeded to put across the meaning. We use word order instead, so that "John hit his wife" is meaning-wise the reverse of "His wife hit John", and "John his wife hit" would might mean John got beat up (OSV), but might be SOV. (In Russian the inflections make it clear either way). But in Englsh we only really have I/me, he/him, who/whom, this/these,that/those to play with.

The telling point is that "this" and "that" do not usually refer to a person in English, whereas "those" often does. This leads to conflict as in:

H) It depends on whoever is sitting there.
I) It depends on whomever is sitting here. (I would mark this wrong)
J) It depends on the person sitting there. (common way to avoid the issue)

In Russian one might say something like:
k) It depends on that, who is sitting there. (where "that" is inflected to show it is a person)

Hope this helps

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@Jasper Perhaps the root of the problem in English lies in the word roots:
http://etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_fram...
http://etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_fram...

"This" and "that" seem etymologically to be neuter and cannot refer to people as a pronoun.
I guess that is why we say not "It depends on that, who sits there." The outcome is that we search for another word and come up with "person", so in that way "It depends on the person sitting there." is NOT avoiding the issue - it is the true grammatical way of saying it - since we have, if you wish, no demonstrative pronoun for one person - it is a lost inflection.

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sic transeunt populi anglici linguae gloriae

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@WW
"If I repeat the point about usage, it is because this is one of the few language forums where this is not considered important."

Where is your evidence for this? ;=))

Sadly many normal, common or garden people believe their own opinions and are left unswayed by overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Vlad the Impaler, Tony B, Slobodan are names that spring to mind as examples.

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@Warsaw Will,

First, I'm not Jason. I'm Jasper.

I did react poorly. I may have been grumpy/irritable when/before I wrote it. And although I focus on formal grammar when I look at something, I do not discount informal grammar. I try to adhere to formal grammar that makes some semblance of sense. So my focus is always on the grammar and not so much on spoken language and the idiomaticity of the sentence.

As for Quirk et al., yes, that is what I am talking about. Reading it can be arduous. If you ever come by a copy, I suggest reading the chapter on adverbials. It is by far the most fascinating chapter.

After thinking about "who am I to be treated this way?", I don't see it as questionable anymore.

@jayles,

I don't think that I would deem myself academic. I don't believe that I have the breadth of knowledge to be described as such. I think life-long learner would be a better fit.

I'm going to wait and mull over your posts a little more before responding to them.

@Skeeter Lewis,

That is a particularly evocative post I must say, in an enlightening way, that is.

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@JaspernotJason....Thank you.

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@Jasper Saying 'idiomaticity' should be a test of sobriety.

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@Jasper - I'm sorry about your name ; I think I also confused you with jayles once - I get a bit muddled with all these Js (That's no excuse, though!).

Incidentally, the whole book is online, illegally I presume, so I won't link to it. I take it you mean Chapter 8 - 'The semantics and grammar of adverbials' - a mere seventy pages or so - I'll try and give it a whirl sometime.

@jayles the unwoven - "Where is your evidence for this? ;=))" - virtually every post. I would suggest that a majority of the few remaining regular posters consider formal grammar 'more correct' than actual spoken Standard English (although I don't include you in this). That is not a criticism, just a statement of the position as I see it. Jasper himself says that that his 'focus is always on the grammar and not so much on spoken language and the idiomaticity of the sentence'. Whereas my focus (and interest in English) is exactly the opposite.

At the risk of being accused of banging on about descriptivism yet again (sorry, Jasper), as far as I'm concerned (and I think as far as many linguists are concerned, including the aforementioned Quirk et al), grammar derives from the language as it is used, not from a canon of old grammar books, many aspects of which, such as their attitudes to preposition stranding and split infinitives, are now largely discredited. I believe that 'grammar' should reflect the language as it is actually used by educated speakers, and I also think we should think more about register and 'appropriateness' than 'correctness' as dictated by the writers of formal grammar.

I may be wrong, but it seems to me that this is currently a minority view on this forum, in contrast to forums such as StackExchange and WordReference, where discussion is based more on usage. Hence my statement.

I confess I do have a thing about 'whom', which is where I think traditional grammar departs most from reality, and I have written a series of posts under the rubric of 'Whom Watch'. My problem with examples like "Whom did you meet last night?", and the far worse "With whom did you eat the pizza?", which comes from a so-called 'grammar infographic' reposted on a couple of ESL sites by teachers who should have known better, is that these are very obviously from contexts where they would be spoken, and unlikely to crop up in formal texts. And in informal spoken language almost nobody would use 'whom' in these contexts (and nowadays it's not so common in books either).

http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=Wh...

http://random-idea-english.blogspot.com/2013/12...

Even back in 1772, in the third edition of 'The Rudiments of English Grammar',polymath Joseph Priestley wrote "As, 'Who is this for?' 'Who should I meet the other day but my old friend' . This form of speaking is so familiar that I question whether grammarians should admit it as an exception to the general rule."

His next bit might be of more interest to Jasper, as it involves the infinitive of 'be' - "Dr Lowth says that grammar requires us to say 'Whom do you think me to be'. But in conversation we always hear 'Who do you think me to be'. "

http://books.google.pl/books?id=mwUUAAAAQAAJ&am...

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