Quant of whom

In my last posting on who/whom, I pointed out that whom is awkward at best when it occurs in constructions that are informal in style — because the choice of whom rather than who is formal in style (Formal vs. Normal, as Geoff Pullum put it in a Lingua Franca posting back in January). In that posting, I noted the interaction between the choice of case for the pronoun WHO and the choice between fronted and stranded Ps:

(1) To whom did you give the book? [fronted P + whom]

(2) Whom did you give the book to? [stranded P + whom]

(3) Who did you give the book to? [stranded P + who]

Who is unacceptable in standard English in the construction in (1), in which WHO is the object in a PP.

Now, in most cases, examples like (1) have a double dose of formality, since both P-fronting and whom are associated with formal style; examples like (2) are merely formal (since P-stranding is neutral in style); and examples like (3) are neutral in style (“normal”). But there are cases in which stranding P is unavailable, so that (1) is the only acceptable alternative, and (as you might expect) whom no longer seems so markedly formal

Rodney Huddleston has pointed out one such case to me: clause-initial Quant of whom (where Quant is a quantifier: some, all, few, both, many, most, none, each, any, a number word) in non-restrictive (a.k.a. supplementary) relatives:

She had discussed it with her colleagues, most of whom agreed with her position.

Just ask your friends, every one of whom will agree with me.

This quantifier construction requires partitive of, and there’s no way to strand the of, so whom is obligatory. The only way out is to abandon the non-restrictive relative, in favor of, say, a coordination:

She had discussed it with her colleagues, and most of them agreed with her position.

Just ask your friends, and every one of them will agree with me.

That is, if you want a non-restrictive relative, you’re stuck with whom. As a result, as Rodney wrote to me:

You might say that supplementary relatives are slightly formal, but such examples are not comparable in style level to ‘To whom did you give it?’, where there is an informal counterpart ‘Who did you give it to?’

Geoff Pullum wasn’t so sure. He wrote:

My instinctive feeling on reading what Rodney said about [the Quant of whom examples] was that one would be unlikely to hear these in real conversation, which suggested that I would be unlikely to find “…of whom…” between quotation marks in a corpus. But a very rapid and cursory look at the Wall Street Journal convinced me immediately that (although the number of hits was small) my instinct might be misleading me. At least when people talk to WSJ reporters, “…of whom…” does pop out, apparently in their unprepared speech, even in association with clear markers of informal spoken style like “I’d”, supplementary “really”, “bigwigs”, and “damn”:

w7_017: “I’d be inclined to say that the average lay eater has as many credentials as do formal critics, most of whom have no training, really, including myself,” he says.

w7_042: “The idea is for the (American Express) bigwigs, most of whom are on the top floors of the building, not to notice there are other buildings there,” said an individual familiar with the plans.

w7_060: Foreign leaders he most admires: Corazon Aquino of the Philippines and Raoul Alfonsin of Argentina, “both of whom put their lives on the line for democracy every day.”

w8_033: “There are the Indians, tribal groups who don’t like Zia’s crackdown on drugs, separatist movements, the KGB and the Khad {the Afghan KGB}, all of whom have an interest in his death,” the U.S. official said.

w8_034: “This year, a lot of people, some of whom I really considered friends, wrote me off after Iowa,” Mr. Bush says.

w9_011: “Sitting out on the stage looking out at those wonderful young women, all of whom have the world now in their pocket,” she wondered what she could say of relevance.

w9_030: The marooned jet bore “significant captains of industry, all of whom command legions, and they couldn’t get off the damn plane.”

It would be hard to make the case that all of these were formal style, forced by the context of talking to a reporter with a spiral-bound notepad in his hand. And what we can say for sure is that none of the speakers would have said “*…all of who…”!

So “whom” is not dead in informal speech, it’s just extremely reduced in its distributional range. Which in some ways is even stranger than for it to be either dead or in 50-50 free variation with “who”.  Old inflected forms, like old soldiers, never die, they only fade away.

For another occasion: the tale of Geoff”s “Normal and Formal” piece.

5 Responses to “Quant of whom”

  1. Ellen Kozisek Says:

    What about “which”, as in (using it in one of the examples above) “She had discussed it with her colleagues, most of which agreed with her position.”? (And a Google search shows I’m not wrong in thinking this a construction out there in use.) How does that fit into the picture?

  2. “Who to follow” is grammatically fine « Sentence first Says:

    […] Zwicky analyses whom in quantifier constructions in non-restrictive relative clauses, e.g., “Tell your workmates, […]

  3. The power of lore and dogma « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] Quant of whom (link): on Quantifier + of whom […]

  4. with whom « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] Quant of whom (link): on Quantifier + of whom […]

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: