Mark Liberman at Language Log describes a construction that is both new and repellent to me, the use of “relative clauses with a present participle in place of a finite verb, whose subject is a partitive structure involving a relative pronoun.” That’s pretty indigestible, so let me give you some examples:

Both of whom being influenced by Ellington, Rowles and Brown choose one Ellington tune for each of the two albums that comprise this two-CD set…”
“Ireland and Denmark, both of whom being heavily reliant on British trade, decided they would go wherever Britain went…”
“At present, personal injury cases are heard by many different Judges, some of whom having no experience in this field.”

I share Mark’s judgment that “every single one of these examples seems completely ungrammatical”; furthermore, even apart from questions of grammaticality, they are pointlessly wordy, since in every case the “of whom + participle” construction can be omitted with no alteration in meaning:

“Rowles and Brown, both influenced by…”
“Ireland and Denmark, both heavily reliant…”
“…many different Judges, some with no experience…”

But given the breadth of the examples Mark has googled up (and I’ll add another one: “…do they spread the risk across more players, some of whom having lower capital reserves and security rating?”), it can’t possibly be a chance convergence of individual mistakes; it’s clearly a Phenomenon (and another example of how the internet is revolutionizing the study of language). So I’ll do another LH poll: how many of you find the construction acceptable, whether or not you use it yourself?

Update. Mark has expanded on the subject in a new LL post, inter alia correcting one of my commenters’ misapprehensions on the subject of eunuchs. [N.b.: The mention of eunuchs later disappeared from his post.]


  1. As I wrote to Dr. Liberman, I consider most of those examples grammatical, although perhaps I am tainted by my obsession with Latin.
    I seem to analyze these differently from him and you. Here’s how I see it:

    “Both of whom (being influenced by Ellington, Rowles and Brown) choose one Ellington tune for each of the two albums that comprise this two-CD set…”
    “Ireland and Denmark, both of whom (being heavily reliant on British trade) decided they would go wherever Britain went…”

    Of course under this analysis, the third sentence of that set is questionable at best, because there is no main clause for the participial clause to be parenthetical to:

    *”At present, personal injury cases are heard by many different Judges, some of whom (having no experience in this field).”

  2. clockzero says

    It seems like sometimes the present participle, pronoun and partitive structure are totally unnecessary: “Both influenced by Ellington, Rowles and Brown etc,” or “…different judges, some having no experience etc,”. Sometimes one, sometimes all three. I see it as a good example of meaningless, puffed-up verbiage intended to convey the impression of eloquence or significance; but perhaps it is also an example of a kind of belabored delicacy: it’s as if the author is saying “there is a group which certain people of interest belong to, but I will preserve them by claiming an indeterminate quantity for censure”. I dunno. I could be way off the mark.

  3. Ugly to my eye, because of or despite seeing it so often in student papers, both as a writing tutor in New Orleans working with struggling kids, and as an instructor in Indiana in a special topics course with mostly A/B students. I’d always grouped it in with the various constructions students reach for when they’re trying to sound formal but don’t have an ear yet for academic style.

  4. I don’t know about ungrammatical, but definitely very bad style. For me this kind of thing pops up during the writing process, when I’m not yet sure how I’m going to make my point, and then disappears when I edit. Which means, alas, that now and then I might end up carelessly publishing one of these constructions.
    It sounds like bureaucratese, from someone who has learned on the job to do the opposite of anything E.B. White or Orwell said.
    “Being” is a convenient sort of syntactical cheater for careless writers, I think.
    I used to know a pretentious HS student who frequently began sentences with “Being that….”, meaning “Since….”.

  5. They sound horrible to me. Ungrammatical and ugly.
    I correct them this way:
    Both (*being) heavily reliant on . . .
    Both (*being) influenced by . . .
    Some *(having) no experience . . .
    (The correlation is with verb, not subject.)

  6. Justin: your analysis makes a kind of sense of these strings, but it doesn’t really work for these sentences. In the first example, Ellington, Rowles and Brown isn’t a list – Rowles and Brown is the subject.
    Your analysis of the second is possible, but I’m not sure it’s acceptable as a complete sentence – it’s just one modified noun phrase.
    (I really need a better grasp of syntactic terminology to express myself here, but I think I’m making sense.)

  7. Correct, but repellent.
    Just because I can construe it doesn’t mean I have to like it. And I don’t like it.

  8. Spot the missing “it”.

  9. Ugly; ugly as sin. And not nearly so delightful.
    Looks like a tarting up of what I think is a common enough conversational gambit: “At present, personal injury cases are heard by many different judges, some of them having no experience in this field” sounds perfectly fine to my ear–and, upon reading Liberman’s post more closely, I discover it’s perfectly fine to his, too. –But it’s a bit tumbly for “fine” writin’, so said writer attempts to dandy it up by inexplicably swapping “whom” for “them,” resulting in something so lip-pursingly stiff it must be correct. Right?

  10. *

  11. It would never occur to me to use it, and I’d edit it without a second thought in someone else’s writing.

  12. Tim- good point about the first sentence. This was what Liberman was getting at, I guess, when he mentioned the quibus cognitis construction. But even in Latin, these relatives need some sort of antecedent, and our example, (at least as presented; I’m too lazy to google it up and find what originally preceded it) places the referent later in the sentence, so that would make it ungrammatical to me.
    As for the second one, I don’t see how it isn’t a sentence. The predicate is the phrase beginning with “decided.” Or am I missing something here?

  13. ben wolfson says

    What’s the second sentence in full? If it’s something like “Ireland and Denmark, both of whom (being heavily reliant on British trade) decided they would go wherever Britain went, nevertheless made it clear that they would rather go their own way” I don’t see what’s wrong with it, aside from wordiness (why would you ever need to say “both of whom”?). But the way it’s punctuated in the example makes it seem that “decided” goes with “Ireland and Denmark”, leaving “both of whom” out in the cold for some verb-lovin’.
    The first and third are unambiguously ungrammatical, and horribly ugly moreover. Not one bolded word from the first sentence is necessary.

  14. Doesn’t sound like something I’d use, but it also doesn’t sound ungrammatical.
    If I were writing, it’d be the sort of thing I’d probably neaten up and simplify in editing, because it does strike me as more verbose than strictly necessary.

  15. Where does this atrocity originate, and can we stop it crossing the Atlantic?

  16. Ungrammatical for me. I can see where they’re coming from, but I’d read it as a confusion in composition, almost an anacoluthon.
    The relative ‘who(m)’ requires case, so when it’s the complementizer on its own it requires a finite verb after it. When however the case is assigned by ‘of’, the result reads like an absolute subject of a non-finite verb: ‘both being…’, so ‘both of whom being…’.
    But for me the ‘whom’ has to have an antecedent that it’s relativizing, not just a prior antecedent (as ‘of them’ allows), so the whole relative pronominal ‘both of whom’ has to be the subject, and has to therefore have a finite verb. I’m struggling to explain why exactly it differs from the correct versions, but my intuition about it is clear.
    If it was actually grammatical it would be an elegant and neat turn of phrase, just as much as any of the three alternatives Mark Liberman proposes. But for me as for him, it is only they that are sayable.

  17. Jonathan Wright says

    This usage seems completely ungrammatical to me and, as someone who spends much of his time correcting other people’s writings, I would edit it out without a second thought, and even with a wince at what the intolerant half of my brain would consider to be a sign of poor education or slovenly thinking. If it spreads, I will no doubt adapt, but since the usage has no obvious advantage over other ways of saying the same thing, I continue to hope that it will remain a marginal phenomenon.

  18. Me too, but the range of comments here isn’t promising — too many people find it grammatical, even if ugly or verbose. I wish I had an easier time dealing with language change when it’s happening around me; I used to be so blithe about it in my historical-linguist phase.

  19. speedwell says

    No. Oh no. I would edit this out without even stopping to think whether it is correct or incorrect gramatically, just because it’s as horrible as a Kool-Aid stain on my heirloom quilt. It doesn’t matter a bit that some quilters dye fabric with Kool-Aid, and it doesn’t matter that some people find this horror to be acceptable. I won’t accept it. I can’t be made to accept it. So there.

  20. Besides being abominable, it seems incorrect in the way that a non-parallel construction is incorrect. Something doesn’t match; a variety of antecedent problem, as discussed above by entangledbank.

  21. The second sentence in full (I did find and link to these things when I wrote my post above) is:

    Ireland and Denmark, both of whom being heavily reliant on British trade, decided they would go wherever Britain went, and hence also applied to join the Community.

    Justin: decided … can’t be the predicate if being heavily reliant on British trade is parenthetical, because then it has to be part of the phrase headed by both of whom. Or so it seems to me.

    Ireland and Denmark, (both of whom (being heavily reliant on British trade) decided they would go wherever Britain went),…

    ben wolfson above is of course correct that there could be a predicate after this, and this would be grammatical, albeit stylistically inadvisable. But it turns out there isn’t, and the punctuation doesn’t support such an interpretation anyway. If it isn’t simply an error, the author must have intended both of whom being heavily reliant on British trade to constitute a single parenthetical element. Which is ungrammatical, for me.

  22. Curses, foiled again!

  23. Late comment. Just to be repulsive, I’ll try a concocted example. “The pair of eunuchs, both of whom who had no penises, said their sex change had been a good career move”. To me (UK English speaker, 48) there’s nothing wrong with it grammatically … yet there’s something indefinably cumbersome about the construction.

  24. though this one’s propagation seems just another case of a barbarian meme smashing through the gates, it does have classical antecedents (if anyone cares). as a lifelong Latinist, no amount of reader-cavillings has been able to dissuade me from the introductory clause of a gerund appositional to the entire sentence(the “nominative absolute construction”, to borrow its Roman title), or as some sort of prepositional clause not linked to the subject (“ablative absolute”). Fowler did rail against “fused participles”, though many writers in the 17c.-Ciceronian prose tradition have favored them; adding a forward-referring pronoun no native speaker has any trouble parsing (in Lojban we have a special set of words for this, avoiding all possible confusion) may be a tad provocative further, but that’s all.

  25. speedwell says

    I don’t even care if the ancient Greeks and Romans dyed THEIR quilts with Kool-Aid. Ick.

  26. Ray–
    Notice that in your concocted example, you made a typo: “whom who.” I had the same problem when I tried to emulate it: unconscious errors kept creeping in. That suggests to me that it violates something, and that something probably ought to be called grammar.
    Here’s my attempt at using it: “I am of two minds about this, both of which being negatively inclined.” See? I don’t think that’s right (or not wrong in the right way).

  27. Leaving aside the “whom who” typo, when Ray tried to concoct an example, he inadvertently fixed the verb, and so his sentence didn’t fit this construction. The incorrect version should be “The pair of eunuchs, both of whom having no penises, said their sex change had been a good career move”. You see? This construction is so contrary to good writing that we can’t even produce one when we are trying hard.

  28. Update to the update: Mark apparently edited his second post, since there’s nothing about eunuchs there now.

  29. It’s probably worth pointing out that, in all these examples, whom an be replaced by them to yield normal grammar.

  30. Good point.

  31. January First-of-May says

    It’s probably worth pointing out that, in all these examples, whom can be replaced by them to yield normal grammar.

    Exactly what I wanted to say. The “whom” version sounds weird in a “something doesn’t match” way, but with “them” it’s just a normal construction (which I might well have used myself if it ever came up).

  32. That’s an odd way to look at it, though; they’re not two “versions” of a single construction. It’s like saying “Me am going” sounds odd, but with “I” it’s just a normal construction. Well, yeah; one is wrong and the other isn’t.

  33. January First-of-May says

    Sure, but most of the complaints focused on the “having” part and/or the general wordiness, which probably wouldn’t have changed significantly (especially the latter) if “whom” was replaced by “them”.

  34. True.

  35. Stephen C. Carlson says

    Thanks for reviving this post from before I started following this blog.

    This construction suggests to me that ‘whom’ for some people isn’t really part of their native grammar, but of some species of a formal English, learned in pieces and micro-constructions but without a sufficient number of exemplars to be fully productive or schematic. What’s striking about these examples is that ‘both of whom’ has not been learned as a relative pronominal expression. Rather, ‘whom’ (in object position, here, after a preposition) codes as formal and apparently the construction ‘both of whom’ as a formal-sounding replacement for ‘both of whom’. The use of the present participle in these examples also shows an attempt to achieve a formal register.

  36. “The Coming Death of Whom (Language Log 2004)

  37. Pullum at his best! “Whom is like some strange object — a Krummhorn, a unicycle, a wax cylinder recorder — found in grandpa’s attic: people don’t want to throw it out, but neither do they know what to do with it.”

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