Choosing whoever or whomever can be easy. Whomever is an object pronoun and works like the pronouns him, her, and them (Give the document to whomever in the department). Whoever is a subject pronoun and works like the pronouns he, she, and they (Whoever wrote this poem should win a prize).
How does who function?
It all comes down to understanding how who functions. Who and whoever are subject pronouns. In sentences, they function the same way as I, he, she, we, and they. Subject pronouns refer to the person or thing that is performing the action of a verb. Notice how who and whoever act just like the other subject pronouns in these examples:
Who opened the door to see whether it was still raining? Whoever brought these brownies to the party should be commended! He brought these brownies to the party. He should be commended!
Who opened the door to see whether it was still raining?
Whoever brought these brownies to the party should be commended!
He brought these brownies to the party. He should be commended!
In contrast, Whom and whomever are object pronouns. They function the same way as me, him, her, us, and them. (We left you out of this list because it’s formed the same way for both subject and object cases.) An object pronoun can serve as the direct object of a verb (something that receives the action of a verb), or the object of a preposition. Let’s look at a few sentences with these pronouns:
I decided to buy a present for whomever I am assigned in the gift exchange program. He will recommend whomever you suggest. If you suggest him, he will recommend him.
I decided to buy a present for whomever I am assigned in the gift exchange program.
He will recommend whomever you suggest.
If you suggest him, he will recommend him.
Substituting other pronouns for whoever and whomever
Like choosing between who and whom, choosing whoever or whomever doesn’t have to be hard. You can use more familiar subject and object pronouns to sort out which is correct to use. The rule is who/whoever = he, she and whom/whomever = him, her. Which sentence sounds correct?
Give the correspondence to she.
Give the correspondence to she.
You’re right. “Give the correspondence to her” sounds best. So if you apply the rule, you can substitute whomever in place of her. They are both object pronouns. Of course, not all sentences are as easy as this, but you should be able to whittle a sentence down to its essence to make the subject/object distinction. The following sentence doesn’t work as nicely with the replacement pronouns.
Report the problem to he you can find at the bureau?
Report the problem to him you can find at the bureau?
But you can simplify the sentence by removing the additional information—the modifier “you can find at the bureau”—then the sentence is as simple as the first. Later, you can add in your missing details.
Report the problem to him. Report the problem to whomever you can find at the bureau.
If you are still not sure which word to use after you simplify the sentence, try replacing he/him with he who/him who. It might sound a little formal, but if it still makes sense, then you know to stick with the subject case. This trick works for sentences like these:
He who/Him who double parked, you’re being towed.
Clearly, we should stick to the subject case here—”whoever double parked.”
When all else fails, write around the whomever
Do you feel confident about when to use whoever and whomever? If not, you can always do as the professionals do. Rephrase the sentence. There is absolutely no shame in replacing these confusing pronouns with someone or another word. The goal is to get your point across, and you can probably do that without whoever or whomever.
Now, you can conquer whoever, whomever, and universal remotes with the best of them. Go get ’em, tiger!
What tips do you have for using whoever and whomever?