To Whom It May Concern — Or Is It Who?

Good news for those of you struggling with who and whom.  Grammar experts are, once again, predicting the demise of whom.

Bad news for those of you cheering. According to Megan Garber who wrote For Whom The Bell Tolls in April’s The Atlantic, Grammar Girl Mignon Fogarty puts money on whom hanging around for another 50 to 100 years.  Still, fewer and fewer people use whom. 

You should, however, be aware of recent grammar changes (as in the last 10 years) that allow you to:

–       End sentences with prepositions.  Even Churchill complained about that rule.  He is quoted as saying “Madame, that is a rule up with which I shall not put” and other versions of that sentence – and often.   Today, the grammar rules would endorse his use of a preposition to end that sentence up.  That said, you can usually rewrite the sentence to banish the preposition.

–       Start sentences with but, however, and, or because.  But you can’t start paragraphs with those words.  Can anyone tell me the difference?  I guess the liberal grammar experts could move the needle only so far. 

–       Add both an apostrophe AND an “s” make singular nouns that end in an “s” possessive.  Those of you who would simply added an apostrophe are so out of date, which is true of most of us.  The new rule, as cited by Strunk and White in their – wait for it – 2004 edition of The Elements of Style, is to add an apostrophe as well as an “s” to the noun.  So, if Charles has a friend, that person is Charles’s friend.  Go ahead and pronounce that.  I dare you.  Don’t believe me?  Look it up – before you argue with your child’s teacher.  I, for one, am going to forbid Charles, Mr. Jones, Lois, and others whose name ends in an “s” from having any possessions.

If you do deign to use whom in future conversations, your rule of thumb is who is a subject, whom is an object as in who does what to whom.  Your trick is, if you can replace the word with he, use who.  If the sentence needs a him to sound right, use whom.

And places and things are that.  People are who.  Oh dear.  I just started a paragraph with and.  This blog may implode.  But wait.  Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor makes liberal use of and and but at the beginning of numerous sentences in her autobiography, My Beloved World.  Grammar experts vs. Supreme Court Justice.  Hmm.

Rest assured, we at Executive Speak/Write will remain available to help you dust off your communications skills when writing or speaking.  Let us know how we can help.

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