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Predicated upon an evil nominative

April 13, 2005

JUNE CASAGRANDE

There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who try to speak

and write the language correctly, who occasionally actually make the

effort to look things up, who work to master their language. Then

there are the people who couldn't care less. They're the smart ones.

They figured out something the rest of us should learn fast: It's

hopeless.

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Take me, for example. More than two years ago I considered myself

sufficiently educated on the use of "whom" to write a column about

it. Then, last week, I learned that I've been missing something all

along.

If you don't know how to use the word "whom," allow me to suggest

that you turn the page. Because what I'm about to write is iron-clad

evidence that you shouldn't even bother to learn.

People who already understand the basics of "whom" know it's an

object, whereas "who" is a subject. You use "whom" the same way you

would use "me," "him," "her," "them" or "us." You use "who" the same

way you would use "I," "he," "she," "they" or "we." Pronouns in the

latter group perform the action in a sentence, "I threw the ball."

Those in the former group are the object of an action. "I threw the

ball to him."

Simple, huh? It gets a little trickier when it's in the middle of

a sentence where it's both an object and a subject. "I wanted to know

who was looking for me." "We will check the tickets of whoever is in

attendance." Here's the rule: "whom" and "whomever" are never the

subject of any verb in a sentence. Whenever they're both an object

and a subject, choose the subject form.

Isn't that simple? Don't you want to just run over to the water

cooler and start dazzling your co-workers this very minute with your

easy mastery of "whom," perhaps working it into a pop culture

conversation by saying, "Drew Barrymore is the one whom I love"?

Not so fast. First, answer this: If it's correct to say, "Drew

Barrymore is the one whom I love," would it stay the same if you

threw in "it is," as in, "Drew Barrymore is the one whom it is I

love"?

If you don't know the answer, don't feel bad. William F. Buckley

Jr., who has published a book on language, has been busted getting

this one wrong. Here's a clue: When someone calls on the phone and

asks for you, why do you say, "This is she" instead of "This is her"?

If you know the term "predicate nominative," you're ahead of the

class and on your way to a rare and pointless understanding of how to

use the word "whom."

For those who don't know, the "predicate nominative" (I hear the

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