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  1. #1
    dave_mwi Guest

    Question Complex prepositional objects?

    I've usually considered myself to have a decent handle on grammar but this is confusing me.

    Which of these is correct:

    Tell it to whomever lost the book.

    or

    Tell it to whoever lost the book.

    The grammar-helper paperclip thing in Microsoft Word tells me that the second is correct. Is that because of the whole 'whoever lost the book' being the object of the preposition? I would have chosen the first myself. Any help is appreciated. Thanks!

    If you can cite documentation on the grammar rule, that would be great!

    Dave
    Last edited by dave_mwi; 26-Nov-2004 at 20:55. Reason: added a last request

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    Re: Complex prepositional objects?

    Quote Originally Posted by dave_mwi
    Which of these is correct:

    Tell it to whomever lost the book.
    Tell it to whoever lost the book.
    Oh, I've had days like that, too.

    The computer parses linearly, so, for example, if it's programmed to 'look for' subject+verb+object structures, wherein "who" comes before the verb and "whom" comes after the verb, then, given a sentence like, "Tell it to whomever lost the book", the computer will pick up on what appears to be faulty word-order, notably 'whom', an object pronoun, comes before the verb 'lost'. But the computer, as I mentioned, parses linearly, which is its major downfall because Human languages are not linear. The correct sentence is,

    Tell it to whomever lost the book.

    The reason being, the preposition 'to' requires an object, so 'whom-' is the correct choice. As for the verb 'lost', well, 'whom-' is not its subject. To find its subject we have to add in what has taken an efficient system years to omit (...)

    Tell it to whomever (it was who) lost the book.

    'who' is the subject of 'lost'.

    As for a grammar source, well, there are a ton on-line. Look for who versus whom. The rule states that 'whom' is used after a preposition. Note, a word cannot have more than one function. It's either the object of a preposition or it's the subject of the verb. If it's headed by a preposition, it's always an object. Don't let the following verb fool you.

  3. #3
    dave_mwi Guest

    Re: Complex prepositional objects?

    Thanks for your reply. I was pretty sure thats what the answer was. What is even more interesting is the fact that not only was the grammer parser wrong, but when I asked for additional information about the sentence structure I got a whole 'tip' about using who and whom was also wrong. I guess I'm not that surprised. Thanks again.

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    Steven D's Avatar
    Steven D is offline Senior Member
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    Re: Complex prepositional objects?

    I would just say, "Tell it to whoever lost the book.". I believe just about everyone else whose first language is English would say the same.

    Someone at the Lost -n- Found would say:

    Tell whoever lost this book that we have it here.

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    Re: Complex prepositional objects?

    Quote Originally Posted by X Mode
    I would just say, "Tell it to whoever lost the book.". I believe just about everyone else whose first language is English would say the same.
    Just about everyone, and the grammar parser.

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    Steven D's Avatar
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    Re: Complex prepositional objects?

    Quote Originally Posted by Casiopea
    Just about everyone, and the grammar parser.
    I'm not big on parsing. But I'm curious. How would you parse the following sentences?

    "Tell it to whoever lost the book.".

    "Tell whoever lost this book that we have it here."


    By the way, I believe that it's quite unlikely for "to" to follow "tell" in that type of sentence for the most part. I don't think it's likely in spoken language. Perhaps it's more of a possibility in written language, but I'd still call it unlikely.

    Just in case: Of course, it's not impossible.

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    Re: Complex prepositional objects?

    In terms of morphology, 'whom' and 'who' are merging to 'who', so either or is acceptable these days; but in terms of grammatical structure 'whom' is the object of a verb or a preposition, whereas 'who' is the subject, which is not to say, given our examples below, that 'whomever' is correct and 'whoever' incorrect, because that wouldn't be a valid description of how speakers use language. The variation whomever ~ whoever is more a matter of language change in action; the underlying form is 'whomever', and it merges to 'whoever'. The reason being, English has SVO word order, and objects (O) generally always come after the verb, so morphological marking (-m-) is really not all that necessary, so it's dropped. '-m-' is becoming an historical remnant--the baby toe of language.

    The underlined portion functions as modification:

    Tell something (DO) to someone (IO) ~ Tell it to them
    1. Tell (V) it (DO) to whomever (IO) [it was that] lost the book.
    => Colloquially, 'to whoever', but don't let its form fool you. 'whoever' still functions as the object of "to".

    Tell someone (IO) something (DO) ~ Tell them it
    2. Tell (V) whoever (IO) [it was that] lost this book that we have it here (DO).
    => Colloquially, 'whoever'; but don't let its form fool you. It may look like a subject, but it's not. It's functioning as the indirect object of "Tell".

    Or is 2. V+DO[about]IO? What are your thoughts?

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    Steven D's Avatar
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    Re: Complex prepositional objects?

    I don't have any particular thoughts. I was just curious about how you would parse it in terms of grammatical analysis. I wasn't really thinking about the whomever/whoever issue.

    first note:

    Tell it to whomever lost the book.

    What would you call "to whomever lost the book"?

    Or would you separate it from the preposition? "whomever lost the book"?

    Then, what would you call "whomever lost this book."?

    second note:

    I find this odd because using "whomever" leaves "lost" without a subject. Would you say so?

    whoever lost the book - If we use "whoever", would you think this could justifiably be called a noun clause?

    Thanks Casiopea,

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    Re: Complex prepositional objects?

    Very meaty questions, and they're exactly the kind linguists ask.

    'tell' is transitive, and not just any run of the mill transitive, it's a double object verb: It takes a DO and an IO:

    1. Tell it to whomever. (DO + IO)

    to is a preposition, and prepositions cannot function on their own. They need an object to pass on their meaning to, and in our example, whomever functions as that object. to whomever is a prepositional phrase: it's headed by the preposition 'to', which expresses the direction in which the information being told is moving. That information (it) is moving in the direction of, or to(wards) whomever. (That transfer of information or thing is the very reason to whomever functions as the verb's indirect object; e.g., Give me a book ~ Give a book to me).

    If we assume that 'whomever' is not the object of 'to', then we have a problem: 'to' doesn't have an object; it doesn't have anything to transfer its meaning onto. That is, given "to____", where is the information moving? Prepositions need an object in order to be meaningful. Without an object, the sentence is ungrammatical; e.g., *Give a book to.

    If we assume that 'whomever' is the subject of the clause 'lost a book', then we've an even bigger problem. We've a verb that has two subjects:

    Tell it to whomever [that] lost the book. (Subj + Subj)

    'that lost the book' is a relative clause in form, and an adjective clause in function: 'that' is the subject, 'lost' is the verb, and 'a book' is the object. The entire clause modifies 'whomever'. It tells us more about 'whomever'. (Note, a clause is tense. That is, a subject is not what makes a clause a Clause. That's why 'that' is often omitted.) So, you see, 'lost' is not left without a subject. It only appears that way because 'that', its true subject, has been omitted.

    Whoever [it was that] lost the book needs to buy a new one.

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    Steven D's Avatar
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    Re: Complex prepositional objects?

    Thanks for your reply, Casiopea. I'll have to take a closer look at it later on.

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