Who or Whom? Missing sandwiches, and other grammar questions

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Here are some random grammar questions I’ve been asked through my Free Grammar Help page.

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Becky in Ohio has a voting question: “No one can tell you (who,whom) to vote for.”

I absolutely agree. Voting is something to take seriously and a decision should be made after carefully considering the facts and sifting through the lies and distortions that are often flying around during an election campaign. I may not be able to tell you which candidate to vote for, but I can tell you clearly which pronoun to use.

To decide whether to use “whom” or “who”, we need to look at the verb and see whether this pronoun is doing the action or is the object of the action. Since the action of voting is being done by “you,” then clearly the “who/whom” is the object of the voting. That means we need to use “whom”.

No one can tell you whom to vote for.

However, don’t make the mistake of using “whom” everytime you have a pronoun that is not the main pronoun in the sentence. Watch the verb.

I don’t know who took my bike. — Here the “who” is doing the action.

I don’t know whom the car hit. — here “whom” is the object of the action.

Check out the page on my website where I discuss pronouns.

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A correspondent in Korea asks a series of questions:

1) He refuses to give up the rigors and promises of theology for a more amenable, even amiable,ethical Judaism.
Q. what does ” promises” in this sentence?
Promises means the benefits, or good results from. Perhaps it means, in this context, the promises of theology are the rewards from God for practicing strictly.
2.You had better have a chorus of exuberant male voices sing the lyrics in unison.

Q. what does ” exuberant” in this sentence?

“Exuberant” means “enthusiastic” or “having great emotion”.


3. The biological body and its given heterosexual proclivities are normalized as a justification for the cultural meanings of men and women

Q. what does ” normalized” and ” justification” respectively in this sentence?

This sentence seems to be saying that heterosexuality is assumed to be normal in order to justify the different treatment of men and women in culture. What the writer is saying is that the culture has different roles for men and women, and the cultural beliefs are that these different roles are proper because heterosexuality defines men and women differently.

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A school principal writing a request for funding from a community group asks:

Do I sign the note “With warm regard,” or “With warm regards”?

Answer: I think in this case the term “regard” means  more than “here’s looking at you”; it expresses emotions. So I would interpret it as a plural. So be generous; give them more than one regard. Use “regards.”

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Maryam in Syria is looking for her sandwich.

Q: In this sentence where is the object? Anna ate her cold chicken sandwich for lunch.

A: Clearly the sandwich is now inside Anna!

Seriously, the object is “sandwich.” Most of the rest of the sentence just describes the sandwich. The sentence would still be correct if it was “Anna ate her sandwich.” What did Anna eat? Clearly, “sandwich” is the object of “ate.”

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An English teacher (and I mean a real one, in England) asks:

I’m writing up an English assessment for my class and I’ve copied the following question from a text book: “Write a story in which a group of animals is dealing with conflict” I looked at it and then changed the ‘is’ to ‘are’, then changed it back again, thinking hmmm, it’s ‘A’ group, so it has to be singular. A colleague came by and said, “Hey, that should be ‘a group of animals ARE’ What do you think?

Always glad to help out a colleague, especially when it means showing up another colleague, I answered:

Your colleague is wrong.

The subject of the sentence is “group.” This is a singular concept. Therefore the verb should be in the singular form. Look at it this way: the phrase “of animals” is only an adjectival phrase describing which group you are talking about. The sentence would be perfectly acceptable if it was written: “A group is dealing with conflict.” The only problem is not grammatical; it is that we don’t know which group. We could say “An animal group is dealing with conflict,” putting the adjective before the noun instead of afterwards as an adjectival phrase. So, I hope you see that “is” is the correct verb to agree with “a group.”

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From Alaska comes the question:

How would you explain to a non-native speaker of English that the following sentence is not correct.
“I have gone home at 3:00pm yesterday”

The tense of “have been” is the present perfect. It is called the present perfect because it is something that began in the past, but is still true in the present. We use it in sentences like “I have been to Hawaii.” So if we said “I have gone home” it would mean we were still at home. Since the obvious meaning of the sentence is that we are talking about something that happened in the past and has no relationship to the present (I could be still at home, or I could be somewhere else now) we use the simple past. “I went home…” states an action (going) that occurred and was completed in the past.