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Whom abuse

November 5, 2012

In the Times last Thursday (November 1st), Matthew Parris produced the following: ‘… the Bishop of Durham, Justin Welby, whom I believe will soon be Archbishop of Canterbury’. This translates as ‘I believe him will soon be Archbishop of Canterbury’. It makes me wince, like someone dragging their nails down a blackboard.

Misuse of whom is usually perpetrated by writers without a firm grasp of grammar, who are trying to impress. But that’s not the case with Matthew Parris, who is a good writer. I think it’s just that this mistake has now become so widespread, especially among writers in broadsheet newspapers, that to most people’s ears it sounds right – after all, they’ve seen it in print often enough – and I suppose it will eventually become the standard form. It’s an understandable mistake: there is a similar construction in which whom would be correct, the Accusative Infinitive, as in whom I believe to be…and that is probably the root of the confusion. But I still don’t like it. Whom abuse, that’s what I call it.

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