Thursday, July 21, 2011

Objects vs. Subjects

So, because I was thinking of perhaps teaching English abroad (an imaginary high five to who can guess where), I decided to look at the Oxford Seminars institute…thing. I saw them advertising in one of my creative writing workshops and thought to myself: Self, you may as well check out these people and see if they are legit. I went home and promptly looked them up on-line.

It seemed fairly safe at first, until I got to the France page. Now, I knew before that this was an issue, but I have never, EVER, seen such blatant misuse of the word ‘whom’ in my life.

In every single sentence where ‘who’ ought to have been used, it was egregiously substituted with the word ‘whom’. Everywhere, with all thought to grammatical construction thrown to the rather erroneous wind. It was so very offensive that I very nearly wrote them a snarky (which Word doc is trying to tell me is not a word. Silly Word doc.) e-mail asking if the graduating test was correcting the webmaster’s misuse of an object as a subject?

I have to admit it wasn’t one of my finer, more patient moments. I didn’t do it, but still, the temptation was there and strong. I remember when I was still in grade school—early grade school—some of my fellows thought ‘whom’ was simply a more grown-up way of saying ‘who’. I had no idea that this misunderstanding continued to adulthood for some. I knew that people, for the most part, ignore ‘whom’ as if it doesn’t exist. But this flagrant misuse on a website designed to designate people to teach English abroad

Well. Clearly it has thoroughly upset me. It is time to set the matter straight. What, exactly, is the difference betwixt ‘who’ and ‘whom’?

It’s easy, once it’s been explained a little.

Who: A subject.

Whom: An object.

What does this mean? Subjects are the ones that do in a sentence. They are the words that take the verb. An object is acted upon in a sentence, or receiving what is being done. Let’s have an example, shall we?

Example: Who signed the treaty of Versailles? 
See how the subject and verb go together? The subject is acting on the verb here, so we use who.

            Example: Who slapped whom?
A little trickier, but the subject is the one doing the slapping, the object receiving the slap.

            Example: To whom is it directed? It is directed to whom it may concern of course!

Whenever I am in doubt, I replace who with “I” (a subject), and whom with “me” (an object). The distinction between I and me is typically a little more apparent, as one uses it with more frequency. As such, the former becomes: Is it directed to me? We may have the urge to put “who” simply because whom is followed with a verb. However, if we think on it, we see that the verb is actually acting in conjunction with the word it. Again, this is why putting the sentence into the first person is helpful. We instinctively know to say something like, “It is directed to me!” rather than, “It is directed to I!”

See? Objects and subjects are really quite easy to differentiate. Now we need never, ever, ever mistake who for whom (or vice versa, Oxford Seminars) again. Hooray!

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