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Who do you love?

Q: When I got the New York Times Book Review recently, I was surprised to see this headline on the cover: “Who Do You Love?” Shouldn’t it be “whom,” since it’s the object of a verb? I know there’s no longer much distinction made in informal usage, but I never thought this would apply to the Book Review.

A: You’re right – “whom” would be technically correct. But it would look stuffy in that headline and raise more eyebrows than “who.”

I used to write headlines myself at the Book Review, and I’d guess the headline writer in this case was aiming at a colloquial feel. In colloquial English, “who” is often used to begin sentences and clauses that should technically start with “whom.”

Besides, the expression “Who do you love?” is a pretty well established idiom by now. (What famous rock band hasn’t recorded Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love?”)

I talk about this more liberal use of “who” in a section of my grammar book Woe Is I called “A Cure for the Whom-Sick” (page 9 of the third edition) and in the section on grammar myths (page 215).

In a blog entry last fall, I discussed taking liberties with “I/me” and “who/whom.” And here’s a link to the online version of the grammar myths section in Woe Is I.

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