Sunday, August 23, 2009

Who or Whom?


While writing my homily this week, I spent a fair amount of time struggling over a grammatical concern. Here's an example of the problem I was trying to solve:
Two really big questions staring us right in the face here:
Joshua asks: Who are you going to serve?
Jesus asks: Who are you going to follow?
Probably the most honest way to get at these questions
would be to rephrase them just a bit and ask:
Well, who DO I serve? Who DO I follow?
Do you see the problem? I was trying to decide whether I should be grammatically correct and write, instead:
Whom are you going to serve?
Whom are you going to follow?
Whom DO I serve? Whom DO I follow?
In each of these instances, "whom" would have been the correct usage but I'm aware that generally, folks don't talk that way. Many folks would use "who" in casual conversation. My concern was that the correct usage might sound stilted and be distracting.

You might recall that Joshua used the correct word in the first reading:
“If it does not please you to serve the LORD,
decide today whom you will serve..."
(And Joshua never spoke a word of English!)

So, I'd be interested in your take on this question. Whether you heard my homily in church or read it on line, did you notice or not notice my incorrect usage? Was the incorrect usage distracting to you? Do you think the correct usage would have been more distracting? Would you prefer to hear/read the correct or incorrect usage? Did I make the right call on this or was I wrong?

After Mass I was out to brunch with some family members and I raised this issue. After I've read some of your comments on this question, I'll share with you what my brunch-mates thought.

-ConcordPastor

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

I must confess that I did not think about it. I was listening intently but never thought about your use of grammar. I do prefer the proper grammar regardless of the way people talk. You should always use the proper grammar and be role model for others. Great homily.

Missy Francis said...

I think you should write the way you talk; whatever feels comfortable coming from your mouth. If you said it without writing it down or thinking about it first--which way would it go. Then your voice will be more genuine, whether you are the sort to use correct grammar or not. It will "sound like" you.
:)

ConcordPastor said...

Missy: the thing is, in my every day speech I would say "whom"!

worm said...

Yes the incorrect usage bothered me as I was reading it. I also realize I probably should apply for a grammar police badge.

michelle said...

I did not notice your incorrect usage...

(I must admit when I thought about this and realized that I didn't notice, I felt kind of embarrassed and self-critical that I didn't notice)

I guess for me, I think maybe hearing the message was more important than the correct/incorrect grammar usage.

Concord Carpenter said...

I was not around this weekend for your homily, but needed it!

I neither would not have noticed nor cared. I'm listening for the message.... which you do so well.

Novo said...

I would say...it depends. In this case, I think you made the right choice given the way most people would say it in typical oral language. On the other hand, I think "It is me, Lord," is pretty terrible and even though some do say it. "It is I, Lord." seems so much better.

Missy Francis said...

Well see, that's the thing; I think if you would have actually said "whom" then no one would think it awkward because they're used to your manner of speech.

ConcordPastor said...

Point well taken!

ruthie said...

Always use the grammatically correct usage, please! What so many people, myself included, are doing to the English language distresses me. I find it distracting from the message if a public speaker makes grammatical errors.

Now, as your sister, I am curious about with whom you had brunch. And please note, I did not end that sentence with a preposition!

ConcordPastor said...

I had brunch with Michael, Alexis and Dan and Mike and Phyllis (Dan's parents). A and D moved to Shrewsbury yesterday and their 'rents helped with the move - along with lots of Ducharmes on this end.

My brunch mates came to the 10:30 (always a delight to have family and friends in the assembly on a Sunday morning! and then we went to Serafina. In conversation about texting, several of us confessed that our fidelity to grammar prevents us from using all the typical shorthand when texting. I brought up the who/whom issue and the response was VERY encouraging! While everyone agreed that I probably made the right choice (which is the grammatically wrong choice), we celebrated the fact that at one table there were 6 people who cared enough about this question to have a discussion about it!

Wish you'd been with us!

Gentian said...

English is a living language and changes all the time. If thou dost not believe me, I suggest ye read something written in the 17th century!
As a kid in school 40 years ago, I learned that one should say, "WHOM will you follow," rather than the more popular "Who will you follow?" Even though I know the grammatical rules, I seldom say "whom," unless I'm being a bit pretentious.
New words are constantly being added to our language (e.g., all of a sudden I'm hearing "microburst" to describe some kind of severe weather ... I still haven't figured out what it is, but the newscasters presume I have!) and other words meanings change over time.
If you read THE SCARLET LETTER by Hawthorne (19th century) he uses the word "terrific" to describe something that's horribly terrifying. And I presume that was the common usage of that word 175 years ago. We use the word "terrific" to describe something wonderful and exciting.
So, since most people now say "Who will you follow," I just go along with the flow, even though it does bother me just a little bit knowing that my mother is shaking her finger at me from heaven for not following the established rules of grammar. Of course the rules will eventually catch up with the common usage.
Keep us the good work!

Anonymous said...

When Jesus says to his apostles: "Who do they say I am?" or "Who do you say I am?" is this the same kind of grammatical situation you are talking about?

Rosemary

ConcordPastor said...

If you rearrange Jesus' question it can read this way:

They do say that I am who. The verb to be does not take an object (whom), so "who" is correct.

(See? Joshua and Jesus both get it right every time!)

agnes said...

My Dad (grammarian superb) used to love to tell this story: he once asked an employee if one should say "It is I" or "It is me"? -- and the guy thought and replied that while he would say "It is I", he would also say "It's me"....Hmmm.
MDR

St Edwards Blog said...

I loved this post and thread, thank you!

Anonymous said...

I agree with anonymous. Speak and write grammatically. Depending on your audience or the occasion it may be appropriate to speak/write a tad more casually. By the way, I like adverbs - how will he do it? Quickly not quick.