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I've read through many of the previous posts on this subject (such as this one). It is like reading a foreign language seeing "object of the preposition" and "nominative vs. objective case." Would you please indulge a native speaker who was taught through example and thus never dissected sentences? I would be very grateful!

In a letter I am writing, the following sentence appears:

However, there are many things that I am unclear about and I do not know who to ask.

Microsoft is telling me to change the who to whom. I don't put much trust in Microsoft's success rates at grammar checking. Emotion: stick out tongue I know a correct phrase is "Whom should I ask?" but I don't understand why that is correct. I know it was answered in the thread I linked above, but I frankly don't understand what the difference is.

To be clear, I do want to know the actual rule and not the every day verbal usage. Is there a way I can understand this without an entire re-do of basic English?

I look forward to your responses,
Katie Beth
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Hello Katie

Rule: "whom" is to "him" as "who" is to "he":

1. Who likes grammar? He likes grammar.

2. Whom does she prefer? She prefers him.

Now take your sentence:

3. I don't know who(m) to ask.

(I've put the "m" in brackets, to show that we haven't yet decided whether it should be "who" or "whom".)

The underlined part in #3 is the question, i.e. the thing you don't know the answer to:

4. Who(m) should I ask?

To which the answer might be:

5. You should ask him.

If we look at the "rule" above, we see "whom" = "him". So in your sentence, since you have "him" in the answer, you can have "whom" in the question, i.e.

6. I don't know whom to ask.

That said...I never use "whom" myself, in a question.

MrP
KatieBethTo be clear, I do want to know the actual rule and not the every day verbal usage. Is there a way I can understand this without an entire re-do of basic English?

I look forward to your responses,
Katie Beth

As Microsoft will tell you, use "who" or "whoever" as the subject in a sentence. Use "whom" or "whomever" as an object or following a preposition.
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Thank you! I can handle that! LOL!

Does this "who=he, whom=him" rule have exceptions or is this a pretty good bet for the future?

I think I am a rarity in that whom was a frequent word in my household growing up. Emotion: smile

I really appreciate the patience and help!
Hello KatieBeth

"Whom" also relates to equivalents of "him":

1. Whom did you ask? — I asked her.

2. By whom was the payment authorized? — By me, I'm afraid.

etc.

The "rule" is a good bet – except that most people don't apply it, as you noted in your original post.

MrP
MrPedantic2. By whom was the payment authorized? — By me, I'm afraid.

Emotion: tongue tied I've been taught not to start a question with a preposition... Can't we say "Whom was the payment authorized by?" ? Or doesn't anybody speak like that anymore? [double Emotion: tongue tied ]
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I'm not sure anyone speaks like people speak in our examples...

But I think in this instance, the financial controller (a fairly tetchy and pedantic fellow) fronted "By whom" because his main concern was to discover the identity of the payment-authorizing miscreant. And the hapless bought ledger clerk fronted "by me" in tremulous response.

In less fraught circumstances, the FC might simply have said, "Who was the payment authorized by?".

You can say "Whom was the payment authorized by?", but (in spoken BrE, at least) it's likely to grate on your listener's ear a little.

MrP
Thank you so much! I've changed my letter (score 1 for Microsoft) and will remember this for the future!

I appreciate it (yet again).
MrPedanticYou can say "Whom was the payment authorized by?", but (in spoken BrE, at least) it's likely to grate on your listener's ear a little.

MrP

What about the him/he rule, then Emotion: tongue tied ?

From now on, I'll never authorize any payment.
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