Learn English – The use of “whoever” or “whomever” in complex sentence


Should the following say whoever or whomever. And why?

Each of us is free to pretend to be whoever/whomever we wish to be.

This sentence needs an object, right?

Best Answer

Whoever vs. whomever is basically the same problem as who vs. whom, and there are some who argue that the problem so baffles so many users of English that we may as well just give up on the objective forms with the m in them, and just use the forms without it in all contexts.

The problem and confusion tend to arise because these (as used here, at least) are relative pronouns, and a relative pronoun can sometimes seem to be at once an object and a subject:

Solon gave the responsibility and authority to launch a criminal prosecution to whoever so wills.

People are tempted to use the m form there because the relative appears to be (and indeed is) the object of the preposition to. But more importantly, and generally across multiple languages, the case of the relative is determined by its grammatical role within the relative clause, in this case as the subject of the verb wills; so subjective case is quite properly used. The tension will bother some users of English even so.

In your example, the relative may appear to be the object of both the verb be and the verb wish, so whomever is tempting. But be is rather a linking verb than a transitive one, and wish is elliptical for wish to be, so on both counts whoever should be preferred.

Some say using subjective (aka nominative) forms with be (including where it is thus elided), as in “it is I” or “He is taller than I [am],” is stuffy and pretentious and should be abandoned; but when the pronoun is who or whoever, the same objection is raised against the objective form in all contexts, so in this case the old-fashioned purist/prescriptivist and the go-with-the-flow evolutionist are actually likely to agree in preferring whoever.