1. Education
Send to a Friend via Email

Whoever and Whomever

Commonly Confused Words

By

Whoever and Whomever

Bryan A. Garner, Garner's Modern American Usage (Oxford University Press, 2009)

In the manner of who and whom, use whoever when a sentence requires a subject pronoun (equivalent to he or she).

In formal English, use whomever when a sentence requires an object pronoun (equivalent to him or her).

Contemporary usage, however, increasingly favors the use of whoever in both cases. See Usage Notes, below.

See also:

Examples

  • "Whoever is winning at the moment will always seem to be invincible."
    (George Orwell, "Second Thoughts on James Burnham," 1946)

  • "I remember thinking that Victor would not be entirely sorry to turn over the Ministry to whoever was trying to get it that year."
    (Joan Didion, A Book of Common Prayer. Simon & Schuster, 1977)

  • "My father taught me to be honest, to do the best job I could do, and to be fair to whomever I was dealing with."
    (Harry Steele, quoted by Allen Appel in From Father to Son, 1993)

  • "[I]n a free society, it is an individual's right to choose whom they want to give an organ to, just like they can vote for whomever they like and give to the charities of their choice."
    (David Petechuk, Organ Transplantation. Greenwood Press, 2006)

Usage Notes:

  • "If you're unsure of the correct word, choose whoever; even when the objective whomever would be strictly correct, the whoever is at worst a casualism (in other words, not bad except in formal concepts).

    "Like who and whom, this pair is subject to more than occasional hypercorrection."
    (Bryan A. Garner, Garner's Modern American Usage, Oxford University Press, 2009)


  • "As you proceed on life's journey, you may be tempted to use whomever. Resist the temptation, except in two relatively rare cases:
    1. It's the last word in the sentence and is immediately [preceded] by a verb other than to be or by a preposition. I'll go with whomever.

    2. It's a true object. The doctors will treat whomever the sick boy coughed on.
    Looking at the awkwardness of those two sentences, I'm going to amend my rule as follows: Never use whomever."
    (Ben Yagoda, How to Not Write Bad. Riverhead Books, 2013)


  • "Whoever baits a slightly different trap:
    *If the front door swings open for Mr. Wilson it opens too for whomever else can hang on to those charismatic coat-tails.
    The writer has been misled by the preposition for, which is normally followed by the objective case ('It opens for them'). But here for introduces a clause, and the subject of that clause should be whoever, not whomever. There is no doubt that whomever else is wrong here. It is equivalent to anyone else who, and whoever is necessary."
    (Sir Ernest Gowers, revised by Sidney Greenbaum and Janet Whitcut, The Complete Plain Words, David R. Godine, 2002)


  • The Lighter Side of Whoever and Whomever
    Ryan: What I really want, honestly Michael, is for you to know it, so that you can communicate it to the people here, to your clients, to whomever.
    Michael Scott: [chuckles] Okay.
    Ryan: What?
    Michael: It's "whoever," not "whomever."
    Ryan: No, it's "whomever."
    Michael: No, "whomever" is never actually right.
    Jim: Sometimes it's right.
    Creed: Michael is right. It's a made-up word used to trick students.
    Andy: No. Actually, "whomever" is the formal version of the word.
    Oscar: Obviously it's a real word, but I don't know when to use it correctly.
    Michael: [to camera] Not a native speaker. . . .
    Pam: It's "whom" when it's the object of the sentence and "who" when it's the subject.
    Phyllis: That sounds right.

    Michael: Well, it sounds right, but is it?
    Stanley: How did Ryan use it, as an object?
    Ryan: As an object.
    Kelly: Ryan used me as an object.
    Stanley: Is he right about that . . .?
    Pam: How did he use it again?
    Toby: It was . . . Ryan wanted Michael, the subject, to explain the computer system, the object . . .
    Michael: Thank you!
    Toby: . . . to whomever, meaning us, the indirect object--which is the correct usage of the word.
    Michael: No one asked you anything ever, so whomever's name is Toby, why don't you take a letter opener and stick it into your skull.
    ("Money," The Office, 2007)

Practice:

(a) "She had a way of finishing a phrase, slamming down hard at the end of it, and then her black eyes would fix on _____ she was talking to."
(Ed Allen. "How to Swallow." Ate It Anyway. University of Georgia Press, 2003)

(b) _____ gossips to you will also gossip about you.

Answers to Practice Exercises

Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words

  1. About.com
  2. Education
  3. Grammar & Composition
  4. Words
  5. Commonly Confused Words
  6. Whoever and Whomever - Commonly Confused Words - Whoever versus Whomever

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.