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September 22nd, 2004

Alot / also is vs. is also / check with who(m)ever designed it

by Barbara Wallraff

Josh Emmett, of Detroit, writes: “I’m a 58-year-old female. In my senior year in high school, when I entered the classroom for English literature I noticed ‘a lot’ and ‘alot’ written in huge script on the blackboard. Once the bell rang, the teacher turned to the board and, hitting it with the chalk, said in a very loud voice: ‘If I see one paper turned in with “alot,” it will get an automatic F! “A lot” is always two words, and it drives me crazy when I see it as one word!’ I sat there stunned. I have never forgotten that, and now ‘alot’ annoys me. I read and write stories on the Net, and it jumps out at me every time.”

Dear Josh: Thank you -- I couldn’t have made a better case myself for using standard English spelling and spacing. Nonstandard variants like “alot” upset a lot of people. And they distract readers from what the writer is trying to say. In writing this response to you, I’m pleased to report, I had to go back and close up “alot” after I typed it, because my word-processing program automatically turns the one-word version into the correct two-word version. If only it would do the same for “alright”! “Alright” is not all right, any more than “alot” is.

Ben Wilkie, of Schenectady, N.Y., writes: “Many times in print I’ve seen sentences like ‘He also is ...’ Shouldn’t this read ‘He is also’? ‘He also is’ doesn’t sound correct.”

Dear Ben: You’re right that the usual word order is “He is also.” You’re right, too, that “also is” often appears in print. Why? Let’s take for an example “He is also going to look this up.” Doesn’t this suggest -- even if only faintly -- that he is going to do that in addition to something else? But what if the idea is that I am going to look this up and so is he? “He also is going to look this up” makes this point better, it seems to me.

Greg Otis, of Brooklyn, N.Y., writes: “Which is correct: ‘Check with whoever designed it’ or ‘Check with whomever designed it’? Is ‘whoever/whomever’ the object of the preposition or the subject of the clause?”

Dear Greg: The people who came up with the rules of grammar could have gone either way on this one, I suppose. (For anyone who’s not sure what the point of this question is: In “Check with him,” the word “him” is the object of the preposition “with,” so it’s in the objective case. But in “Who ever designed it?” or “whoever designed it,” “who” or “whoever” is the subject of the verb “designed,” so it’s in the subjective case. In “Check with X designed it,” which case is X in?)
According to a long-established rule, being the subject of a clause trumps being the object of a preposition. So the correct word in your sentence is “whoever.” And isn’t that a relief! Even where they are correct, “whom” and “whomever” have few fans nowadays. I’m always happy when correct grammar and what sounds normal are the same, so I don’t have to choose between them.

© Copyright 2003 by Barbara Wallraff. Reprints require prior permission. All rights reserved.

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