who/whom/that

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who/whom/that

Post by navi » Tue Aug 04, 2020 4:55 am

Which are correct:

1) There are four people I would like to take care of my father.

2) There are four people that I would like to take care of my father.
3) There are four people who I would like to take care of my father.
4) There are four people whom I would like to take care of my father.

Gratefully,
Navi
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Re: who/whom/that

Post by Phil White » Wed Aug 05, 2020 9:45 pm

a and b are fine.

You will hear people argue vehemently that c is correct (because "who" is the subject of "take care"). This argument only holds water if you accept that infinitive verbs can have subjects. I personally do tend to that view, but few people would agree.

There are other people who would argue vehemently that d is correct because "whom" is the object of "like". In the same way that we would use the objective "him" in "I would like him to take care of my father", we should also use the objective "whom". This argument holds rather more water than the argument for sentence c. Incidentally, the fact that we can omit the relative pronoun completely (as in sentence a) indicates that the pronoun is objective, as only the objective pronoun can be dropped. And "whom" is the objective form of "who" ... or at least it was...

Problem is that many, possibly most, people find "whom" absurdly outdated and always use "who", a fact that has been recognized in good grammars of the language for at least 50 years. And this, of course, would make sentence c at least possible.

In reality, at least in spoken English, the relative pronouns "who(m)" and "which" are pretty rare. "That" is very often preferred, but in cases that allow omission of the relative pronoun altogether, omission is by far the most common choice.

But "who(m)" and "which" are still clinging on tenaciously in written English (I would not dream of not using them). Within the formal context of writing, you will generally be looking to adhere to syntactical conventions. This means that sentence d is correct in formal writing.

But you will see and hear all four.

For what it's worth, in speech I would absolutely use construction a every time. In writing, my only real option would be variant d, as any reformulation would be absurdly complex. But I do find that it sounds over-pedantic.
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Re: who/whom/that

Post by navi » Sat Aug 08, 2020 10:48 pm

Thank you very much for this excellent and informative reply!
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Re: who/whom/that

Post by Phil White » Sun Aug 09, 2020 1:31 am

On reflection, I have to correct myself. I wrote that only the objective relative pronoun can be dropped. This is simply not true.
  • The person (who is) walking down the road.
  • The book (that is) on the table.
We can drop a subjective relative pronoun, but only if we drop the verb "be" as well. In the first of the two examples above, the verb "be" is an auxiliary verb and in the second, it is the locative "be". But we cannot drop the relative pronoun and "be" in other meanings of the word "be":
  • He is the one who is nearly seven foot tall.
  • Is she the one who is her flat-mate?
At half past one in the morning, I am in no fit state to work out exactly when one can drop the subjective relative pronoun, but it appears to be limited to a few cases. I shall ponder this when I am out with Sheba tomorrow...
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