Grammar: It’s all about me (and whoever else is reading)

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Categorized in: Blogging, Editing, Writing
Published on: December 7, 2018

When the world seems out to get me, and nothing is going my way, there’s a phrase I like to repeat to myself: “If it won’t matter in 10 years, it doesn’t matter now.”

This grammar lesson is all about personal pronouns in the form of objects. They can be tricky to parse, but a little understanding of how they’re supposed to be used should help.

Me vs. Myself

First, let’s look at the word “me.” As used in the sentence at the start of this post, “me” acts as an object, or the thing that something is done to. Consider these examples:

  • “The world seems out to get me.”
  • “She gave the book to me.”
  • “He gave a smile to John and me.”

“Me” is always used as an object.

Note, by the way, that the word “myself” acts as an object, too, but it is always reflexive, meaning that it can only be used when you are the object of your own actions or to add emphasis. It would never be OK to say, for example, “He gave a smile to John and myself,” but it would be just fine to say, “I gave a smile to myself” or “I drew that myself.”

Give a quick smile to yourself, and let’s move on to a more challenging concept: the who/whom and whoever/whomever conundrum.

Who vs. Whom

The word “who” is used as a subject, and the word “whom” is used as an object. Some sentence constructions can make deciding which to use a challenging effort, but if you remember that point, you’ll be in good shape.

  • “Who gave John and me a smile? Peter.”
  • “To whom did Peter give a smile? John and me.”

These are pretty straightforward. But what about this?

  • “I will give a smile to whoever is trying hard to learn the piano.”

This sentence is correct. Here, “whoever” acts as both an object and a subject. It’s an object of the first action, in which I am giving a smile to someone, and it’s a subject of the clause “whoever is trying hard to learn the piano.”

In cases like this, the most important function of the word is as a subject, so it will always take the form “whoever.” The object in this case is the entire clause “whoever is trying hard to learn the piano.”

To cement the point, consider this correct example:

  • “I will give a smile to whomever I want.”

Here, “whomever” is not the subject of any clause in the sentence, so it takes the objective form. Make sense?

One final rule of thumb: If you’re having trouble deciding, try replacing the “who” or “whom” with “he/she” or “him/her.” If “he” or “she” makes sense, then “who” also makes sense. If “him” or “her” makes sense, then “whom” also makes sense. For example:

  • “Who/whom was snoring at 3 a.m.?” It wouldn’t make sense to say, “Him was snoring at 3 a.m.,” but “He was snoring at 3 a.m.” is reasonable. You need “who” here, not “whom.”
  • “To who/whom did the doctor give the lollipop?” Here, it helps to rearrange the sentence, as in “The doctor gave the lollipop to her.” Because “her” makes the most sense, the word you need is “whom,” as in “To whom did the doctor give the lollipop?”

We love talking grammar at Bellingham PR and Consulting, so if you ever need grammar assistance, or if you need a Bellingham copywriter to ensure your business is represented as well as possible online, give us a call. We can help!

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