Is It Who or Whom – And How Do You Know?

Here’s a tidbit from “After Deadlines,” an ongoing commentary about writing issues in the New York Times:

Still, in what might be a combination of generosity and caginess, Mr. Guettel helped supply Prospect with a music supervisor, Robert Meffe, whom Ms. Lucas said “has sort of been the ear of Adam” at “Myths and Hymns” rehearsals.

Whom has? No. Make it “who,” subject of the verb in the relative clause.

* * * * * * 

I’m grinding my teeth. Despite having a Ph.D. in English and the authorship of two English textbooks under my belt, I have to stop and think about what “subject of the verb in the relative clause” means. Surely I can’t be the only who struggles with explanations like this one!

Here’s how I do who and whom: I substitute “he” for “who” and “him” for “whom.” (Yeah, it sounds a little like “Tea for Two.”)

So let’s try it again:

Him, Ms. Lucas said, “has sort of been the ear of Adam”…

He, Ms. Lucas, said “has sort of been the ear of Adam”…

“He” works better, so “who” is the correct choice. (Commas around “Ms. Lucas said” would help, wouldn’t they? You drop your voice there.)

Still, in what might be a combination of generosity and caginess, Mr. Guettel helped supply Prospect with a music supervisor, Robert Meffe, who Ms. Lucas said “has sort of been the ear of Adam” at “Myths and Hymns” rehearsals.  CORRECT

One more point: This sentence is much more complicated than it needs to be. Simplify it, and you accomplish two wonderful things: The who or whom problem disappears, and the information is easier to read. Here’s how I would fix it:

Still, in what might be a combination of generosity and caginess, Mr. Guettel helped supply Prospect with a music supervisor, Robert Meffe. Ms. Lucas said that Meffe “has sort of been the ear of Adam” at “Myths and Hymns” rehearsals.  BETTER

And I can’t resist making one more point: When in doubt, use who. Whom is gradually disappearing (hooray!).

whom

                                      Whooom?

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