One of the grammar rules that many of us remember from our elementary school days is the one that says, "A sentence cannot end in a preposition." Attempts to follow this mythic rule (Grammar Girl calls it "grammar myth number one") often lead to some pretty twisted relative clauses, including those relative clauses involving whom. Here are two examples, one attributed to Winston Churchill (though some dispute that he ever wrote or said this), and one I heard just yesterday.
This is something up with which I will not put.
This is something I'm not gonna put up with.
If the first sentence doesn't send your head spinning, then I am sure the second sentence is surely setting off slang alarm bells. Let's back up for just a moment and refresh last week's post; what are relative clauses anyway, and why should you care about them? Relative clauses are dependent clauses (they cannot stand alone as sentences), and they provide additional information about a noun. Relative clauses feature both a subject and a verb that are grammatically INDEPENDENT from the main clause. Take this sentence for example:
I went over to my friend's house, which is located on Mason Street.
The relative clause provides additional information about the friend's house, but the friend's house is not the subject of the main clause, which is "I." In other words, relative clauses can have nothing to do with the main subject of a sentence.
Secondly, and this is where many "whomists" start sounding the alarm bells, the relative clause is introduced by a relative pronoun. As I noted in last week's post, the relative pronouns in English are
who, whom, that, which, whose, where, when, and why
Once you select a relative pronoun, all you need to do is finish out the clause. This is where the No Preposition at the End of a Sentence Brigade chimes in. Just like regular sentences, relative clauses cannot end with a preposition, they say. The best solution is to take the preposition and place at the beginning of the clause. So we have constructions like:
To whom it may concern
With whom I was speaking
Upon which I was standing
Up with which I will not put
These types of constructions are quite common in German. But as I said in the last post, they sound quite formal to my non-Churchillian, American ears. Guessing from the readership commentary, the "whoms" and "with whoms" sound too highbrow for most of our sensibilities.
Reader question of the week: What is the weirdest preposition + relative clause combination you have ever heard? Send it in and let us all have a laugh. For my part, here is a YouTube video of a Ben Affleck Saturday Night Live skit that satirized Keith Olbermann, one of America's more excitable news commentators.