Problems with Relative Pronouns

Xatufan   Saturday, October 16, 2004, 02:12 GMT
Hello. :#)

I wanted to know: what's the difference between "that" and "which" or "who"? Why do I have to waste my delicious time learning "which" and "who" if I can just learn "that"?

Another thing: I saw in a English book the following sentences:

Who killed Bertha?

Who did Bertha kill?

There was an explanation on their differences. But I think the second one is incorrect. I think there should be "whom" (Accusative case) instead of "who". Correct me if I'm wrong.

So where should I use "whom" instead of "who"?

PS: I'll be loving you if you answer me (too much McDonald's)
Jose   Saturday, October 16, 2004, 18:52 GMT
Too much mcdonalds?
Mxsmanic   Sunday, October 17, 2004, 01:33 GMT
"That" is used for clauses that restrict; "which" is used for clauses that do not.

"I bought all the shirts that were on sale" means that you bought only the shirts with special prices. "I bought all the shirts, which were on sale," means that you bought all of the shirts, and just incidentally they were all on sale. Sentences containing "which" can be split into two independent sentences with no change in meaning; sentences containing "that" cannot.
Easterner   Sunday, October 17, 2004, 10:12 GMT
>>So where should I use "whom" instead of "who"? <<

When used as an interrogative of object, it is perfectly natural to say "Who did Bertha kill?", and it is definitely used like this in everyday speech. In "This is the girl who/whom we met", where it is a relative pronoun, the two forms are optional, but even here I feel "who" is more natural. By the way, you can also say "This is the girl that we met" or even "This is the girl we met".

On the other hand, "whom" is always used after prepositions, as in "To whom it may concern" in formal letters, or "He's man with whom I would share no secrets". But again, in the second example it is more natural to put the preposition at the end of the sentence in less formal speech: "He's a man (who) I would share no secrets with" (it is also more common to say this without "who").
Mxsmanic   Sunday, October 17, 2004, 18:14 GMT
Whom should be used whenever an object pronoun is required; but this rule is not universally followed today.
Easterner   Monday, October 18, 2004, 07:01 GMT

I was also taught that "whom" should be used as you described, but now I see this "rule" is universally "ignored". I guess this is because actual language usage dictates the rules rather than vice versa, at least in informal English. I say "at least" because in e.g. Hungary many people are much more prone to base judgements of what is correct or incorrect on the opinions of some prominent linguists called "language cultivators". As I see it, this is completely different for speakers of English.
Easterner   Monday, October 18, 2004, 10:46 GMT
I think the reason why "whom" is not so much used in object clauses is that the object function is also indicated by auxiliaries or word order, or both.
Sanja   Monday, October 18, 2004, 16:48 GMT
>>because in e.g. Hungary many people are much more prone to base judgements of what is correct or incorrect on the opinions of some prominent linguists called "language cultivators".<<

Same here in Bosnia.

>>As I see it, this is completely different for speakers of English.<<

I noticed the same thing.
Mxsmanic   Monday, October 18, 2004, 19:08 GMT
I anticipated the standard knee-jerk political-correctness reactions. Some people chafe at the very notion of any sort of rules at all being applied to language, even though languages are useful for communication only to the extent that they contain rules that are followed by users of the langauge. The real reason why "whom" is not widely used, I think, is that most current native speakers are too ignorant of the language to use it. Usage created "whom" in the first place.
Easterner   Monday, October 18, 2004, 19:57 GMT

I think it is an exaggeration to conclude that any of us "chafed at the very notion of any sort of rules at all being applied to language". If this were so, we wouldn't be able to communicate here at the first place. Of course language use will always follow rules, but these may (and do)change over time. Rules that were valid decades ago may be slightly changed today, even though most of them are valid at all times. This is why dictionaries put "dated" beside some words or constructions. But rules always depend on a common consensus, which ensures continuity. Who else has the right to "overrule" a minor rule than the speakers themselves, provided this will be universally applied?

On the other hand, it would be wrong to expect everybody to use a given form just because somebody somewhere said it should be so. The fact I put "language cultivators" in brackets is not because I disapprove of it, but because the equivalent of this expression is used in Hungarian. I do think language cultivation (at least to some extent) should be there in English in an institutionalised way as it is present in most Eastern European languages (or French, for that matter), but to label most people as "ignorant" because they don't use a given structure the way one would like sounds (excuse me!) a little snobbish. I am convinced most people do use "whom" in formal style, but informal English tends to use simplified forms, as does informal French, Spanish, German and others.

At the same time, I do think English and French grammar has been more influenced by notions of formal logic than that of other languages. One consequence of this is that e.g. double negation is absent from both, while it is present in most languages. And incidentally this may be one of the reasons why formal and informal style are further apart in these two languages than in others. But intelligent speakers will always use some variation in their style, without giving up their high standards.
Mxsmanic   Tuesday, October 19, 2004, 02:46 GMT
The use of whom is not some arbitrary rule imposed from on high. It's a useful distinction between subject and object pronouns. There's a significant difference between "whom had you in mind?" and "who had you in mind?"
Ko   Tuesday, October 19, 2004, 03:02 GMT
Mxsmanic ,
whom????, oh please, go out sometime,
cool off, calm down, relax
don't be so you anymore, pleaaaaaase...
Mi5 Mick   Tuesday, October 19, 2004, 04:02 GMT
LOL! I don't think he ever gets worked up. Mxsmanic is right though, but I wouldn't recommend making the distinction this way in usual speech.
Easterner   Tuesday, October 19, 2004, 07:19 GMT
I don't object to the use of "whom" as object, however much I may have given this impression. The only thing I want to point out that there is not just one way to say things. "Whom did you have in mind?" and "Who did you have in mind?" are both possible options, the one more distinguished (and perhaps a little "dated"), the other more informal. I tend to use the latter more, but am aware that the other can be used as well, and I do use it if I feel it appropriate. And of course I always use "whom" after prepositions. The reason most speakers do not feel they should use it maybe that the use of auxiliary can also make up for the distinction between subject and object.

Morphological changes are not a rarity. When exactly did English stop making a distinction between "thou" and "ye"? And when exactly did the object form "you" replace "ye"? Nobody can tell, but these changes are here to prove that language is not an impersonal system but a living organism.
blah   Tuesday, October 19, 2004, 16:05 GMT
Sure, 'whom' may be preferred in a formal context but its not essential, the word order carries the meaning. Aren't words like whom and pronouns just remnants from when English was inflected back in the day?

These things are just dying a natural death, and it will happen no matter how many grammarians sob on language forums.