Edward Sapir (18841939). Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech. 1921.
so as to make it parallel with the smaller group who-whom. Once this is done, who joins its flock and our unconscious desire for form symmetry is satisfied. We do not secretly chafe at Whom did you see? without reason.13
But the drift away from whom has still other determinants. The words who and whom in their interrogative sense are psychologically related not merely to the pronouns which and what, but to a group of interrogative adverbswhere, when, howall of which are invariable and generally emphatic. I believe it is safe to infer that there is a rather strong feeling in English that the interrogative pronoun or adverb, typically an emphatic element in the sentence, should be invariable. The inflective -m of whom is felt as a drag upon the rhetorical effectiveness of the word. It needs to be eliminated if the interrogative pronoun is to receive all its latent power. There is still a third, and a very powerful, reason for the avoidance of whom. The contrast between the subjective and objective series of personal pronouns (I, he, she, we, they: me, him, her, us, them) is in English associated with a difference of position. We say I see the man but the man sees me; he told him, never him he told or him told he. Such usages as the last two are distinctly poetic and archaic; they are opposed to the present drift of the language. Even in the interrogative one does not say Him did you see? It is only in sentences of the type Whom did you see? that an inflected objective before the verb is now used
Note 13. Note that it is different with whose. This has not the support of analogous possessive forms in its own functional group, but the analogical power of the great body of possessives of nouns (mans, boys) as well as of certain personal pronouns (his, its; as predicated possessive also hers, yours, theirs) is sufficient to give it vitality. [back]