Unprovoked subject whomever

From Scott Horsley on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday last weekend (July 14th):

Republicans are fighting just as hard for Virginia, believing, as Mr. Obama does, that whomever wins the state will have a good chance of winning the White House.

A “free relative” clause whomever wins the state serving as the subject of a that-complement clause. Within the free relative, whomever is serving as the subject (despite its accusative case); standard English has

that whoever wins the state will have a good chance … [subject clause underlined]

“that whoever wins the state” outnumbers “that whomever wins the state” in ghits 10 to 1 — roughly 60 examples to 6, when irrelevancies and duplicates are omitted — but whomever occurs as a complement subject surprisingly often, and in the writing of experienced writers in serious contexts. These examples are the -ever parallel to the “unprovoked subject whom” cases I talked about in an earlier posting.

First, more examples, all with “whoever wins the state”; obviously, there are a great many more examples with VPs other than wins the state. With complementizer that:

So it is then no surprise to say that whomever wins the state [Florida] up top will likely pull in whomever is below. (link) [the second whomever is an instance of ISOC; see below]

The assumption here is that Iowa Republicans are so socially conservative and the caucus system is sufficiently closed that whomever wins the state will be far too right for the voters of New Hampshire. (link)

To be fair, he didn’t say that Florida was do or die for him, only that whomever wins the state will win the nomination, right before predicting his own stunning come from behind at the buzzer victory. (link)

It’ll be close, McInnis v. Udall will, but I suspect that whomever wins the state [Utah] will take this open seat. (link)

And without that:

If they do not pass the proposal on the ballot right now, whomever wins the state [Colorado] takes it all. (link)

Whomever wins the state wins all of the electoral votes for that state. (link)

Currently, whomever wins the state earns all nine electoral votes, which is the practice in 47 other states. (link)

Contrast these examples with the pull in whomever … case above (where the complement clause is the object of pull in) and the following (all with a VP beginning wins the state …), where the complement clause is the object of a P:

[TO] The delegates are not automatically going to whomever wins the state caucus or primary vote. (link)

[BY] The one state that goes from green to light blue (Connecticut) is currently held by retiring Senator Joe Lieberman, who is expected to be replaced by whomever wins the state Democratic primary election on August 14. (link)

[OF] Do you think Nebraska’s electoral votes should be allocated on the basis of whomever wins the state’s popular vote, as some have suggested, or do you think the current method should be kept? (link)

[FOR] Same thing should apply to extremist Republicans in a couple of state legislatures who want to change the winner take all rule for whomever wins the state. (link)

In these cases, accusative case can be seen as motivated by the fact that the relative pronoun appears in object position (even though it is in fact a subject). As I put it in a Language Log posting:

we have an object clause (usually the object of a P) with WHO as its subject.  The pronoun then immediately follows the governor, and could easily be mistaken for its object (even though it’s the whole clause that’s the object).  In fact, I believe there are languages in which a WH pronoun in this position regularly (or optionally) has its case determined by the governor.

I’ll call this case “in-situ subject of an object clause (ISOC)”.

In contrast, my earlier examples were unprovoked by the syntactic context. The poster child for unprovoked subject whomever is the entertaining

Whomever controls language controls politics.

posted about by Mark Liberman some time ago.

Where do these come from? In my earlier posting on unprovoked subject accusatives, I suggested that they convey “one or more (overlapping) symbolic associations of whom“:

emphasis, forcefulness (whom is phonologically more substantial than who);

correctness (in one system of case-marking, whom rather than who is prescribed in certain syntactic contexts);

tradition, conservativeness (this system is conservative, even old-fashioned);

formality (in another system of case-marking, both who and whom are available in certain syntactic contexts, but whom is used in formal social settings);

social superiority, even contempt (a compound of correctness and formality);

seriousness, gravity

As a result, even experienced writers (like NPR’s Horsley) sometimes choose subject whomever to be emphatic and serious.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: