Thursday, October 18, 2012

Grammar lesson 4

I feel sorry for anyone trying to learn English grammar. My church offers English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) classes. I admire the students in those classes. English cannot be easy to learn.

Even we who supposedly know English trip up over the words "who" and "whom." As an example, I'm reading a book titled No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama Bin Laden. Now, I shouldn't pick on this author, Mark Owen (actually not his real name, for obvious reasons). He's a Navy SEAL, for crying out loud. He's not a seasoned author. And dude, the man helped take out Bin Laden! Still, since he's probably not going to read my blog and come after me with his many weapons, I'll quote a sentence from his "Author's Note":
"This is the story of a group of extraordinary men who I was lucky enough to serve alongside as a SEAL from 1998 to 2012."
See the problem? Mark should have written that sentence this way: "This is the story of a group of extraordinary men alongside whom I was lucky enough to serve as a SEAL from 1998 to 2012."

There's actually a pretty simple rule that tells you when to use "who" and when to use "whom." Who is always a subject and whom is always an object. So, when you're wondering whether to use who or whom (or whoever or whomever), substitute the word he/she/they (subjective) and him/her/them (objective) and see which one sounds right.

Confused? Here's what I mean:
  • "Who/Whom shall I send?" (Isaiah 6:8a)
  • I shall send him (objective). Therefore, "Whom shall I send?" is correct.
  • "Who/Whom will go for us?" (Isaiah 6:8b)
  • He will go for us (subjective). Therefore "Who will go for us?" is correct.
In the sentence I quoted from the book No Easy Day, it's a no-brainer because the author-SEAL was talking about some extraordinary men with (or alongside) whom he was lucky enough to serve. Anytime you have the word "with" or "from" or "to" or "alongside" or "by," you KNOW that you follow it with whom, not who. Why is that? Because those words are prepositions, and they DEMAND an object - and whom is objective. That's why Isaiah 53:1 is correctly translated,
"Who (subject) has believed our message and to whom (object) has the arm of the Lord been revealed?"

1 comment:

LizD4400 said...

Actually, it was the job of his proofreader and/or editor to catch errors like that in his book. Unfortunately, too many books are being published without proper editing these days.