Sunday, May 28, 2017

Whoever or Whomever?

Fran from Suttons Bay was watching reruns of Criminal Minds when she heard the following dialogue:  “The killer wants to inflict fear not only in the victim, but in whomever finds the body.”  She wonders if that should have been whoever.

The preposition in certainly does need an object, but an object isn’t always a single word; it can be a phrase or even an entire clause, which is the case here.

When trying to determine whether the pronoun in this sentence should be whoever or whomever, you have to determine exactly what it is doing -- what its function is. Whoever is the subject form; whomever is the object form.

A verb always needs a subject, whether overt or implied. The verb finds in this sentence needs a subject, and in this case that duty falls to the subject form of the pronoun, whoever. That means that whoever is automatically locked in and can't be used for two separate functions. The object of the preposition in is the entire clause: “in whoever finds the body.”

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