Relative clauses.

Don’t screw your relatives

by Dirk E. Oldman

Today I’m going to talk about why these two are good English –

I will screw whoever wants me.

I will screw whomever I want.

– and why this one is not:

I will screw whomever wants me.

Apparently Annie is going to talk about the fourth one in the group (I will screw whoever I want) when it’s her turn, but in different terms. You can forget about her talking about screwing.

So let’s dive in. I’ve said this before, and I’m not gonna have to keep saying this forever, but maybe I am, because there’s always someone who hasn’t heard it: Anytime you have something being done, there has to be a doer.

Sure, in the real world, things just happen. The English language isn’t the real world. When you see a conjugated verb, a verb that is actually the action that is happening, look for a subject. You can’t have conjugal relations with no one. I’ve tried. It’s a no-go.

It’s true that when something is done,  it will need a doer, but it won’t always need a do-ee. I’ve covered all this, so I won’t bore you. I’ve also talked about making sure you’re not screwing the wrong person, syntactically. I just have one more point to make about this today:

Don’t screw your relatives.

There’s a limit to the implication of that. For one thing, your spouse is a relative, and you should screw him or her if he or she will let you. Your ex-spouse is not a relative. In grammar, relative clauses make perfectly good objects. Relative pronouns are what you have to watch out for.

What are relative pronouns? They’re who and whom (and which and whose and that, but they’re less interesting for today’s purposes). Going with them are whoever and whomever, which are actually double-team pronouns: they stand for both a pronoun and a relative pronoun, like combining he who or anyone who into whoever.

The confusion we’re sorting out today comes when we go with the formal standard of using whom and whomever for objects. (You know whom and whomever are the objects because they have those lady-humps – or, on dudes, massive pecs – that you always see on sex objects: m.) In casual usage we use who and whoever everywhere all the time, so there’s less worry about this, but right now we’re talking about the kind of situation where you’re actually trying to be proper. This isn’t like casual sex: we’re wearing bowties.

What’s a relative clause? It’s really a sentence of its own, but it’s describing a noun in the main sentence, so it’s changed to make it attach to the noun it’s describing:

This is Jilly. She likes leather.

This is Jilly, who likes leather.

This is Jackie. Leather likes her.

This is Jackie, whom leather likes.

And sometimes it’s actually in place of a noun in the main sentence:

She brought the camera. She should get in here.

Whoever brought the camera should get in here.

I want to see him. He brought the handcuffs.

I want to see whoever brought the handcuffs.

Alf invited him. He is wanted in the kitchen.

Whomever Alf invited is wanted in the kitchen.

I want to see her. Jane described her so nicely.

I want to see whomever Jane described so nicely.

In the examples right above, the whole relative clause takes the place of the subject or object – not some individual word in it, the whole thing. We could also split the double-team pronoun to give an explicit pronoun or noun that the clauses modify:

The lady who brought the camera should get in here.

I want to see the dude who brought the handcuffs.

He whom Alf invited is wanted in the kitchen.

I want to see her whom Jane described so nicely.

Do you see what’s going on there? Let’s just look at the relative clauses and their regular-sentence counterparts.

who brought the camera – She brought the camera.

who brought the handcuffs – He brought the handcuffs.

whom Alf invited – Alf invited him.

whom Jane described so nicely – Jane described her so nicely.

So he and she go with who and him and her go with whom. And it’s always in relation to the verb in the relative clause.

When you have a double-teamer – a whoever or whomever – it’s always in relation to the verb in the relative clause too, because that verb has to have a subject. It gets desperate otherwise. That’s why we say I want to see whoever brought the handcuffs and not I want to see whomever brought the handcuffs. Someone had to bring them. Brought is a conjugated verb. It needs a subject.

In the main sentence – what linguists like to call the matrix sentence – either there’s a noun or pronoun that the relative clause modifies (He who finishes last cleans up), or the whole relative clause with who(m)ever is the subject or object (Whoever finishes first is just too eager).

Matrix? More like Inception. It’s like a dream within a dream. Or, to go with my usual theme, say you call someone up for phone sex and instead of talking to you they play a tape of them having phone sex with someone else.

And some people think English is normal and rational. Ha.

The point is that the relative pronouns belong to the relative clause. Don’t treat them like your objects in the main sentence. Don’t screw your relatives.

So this is why I will screw whomever wants me is a mistake. Look: there are two conjugated verbs, and each needs a subject. It’s I will screw (not me will screw) and it’s whoever wants me. You can’t have a doing without a doer.

Try it one more time. Pick the right variants in this one:

Who(m)ever he thought she was turned out not to be who(m)ever was looking back at him in the morning, and she/her who(m) he once loved had become she/her who(m) faded away like Eurydice when he looked at her, only in this case she was the one who(m) was screaming at him.

Found the verbs? Take a moment. OK? Here we go:

Whomever he thought she was turned out not to be whoever was looking back at him in the morning, and she whom he once loved had become her who faded away like Eurydice when he looked at her, only in this case she was the one who was screaming at him.

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One thought on “Relative clauses.

  1. vbf vcdevb cv says:

    heh.

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