By whom ... archaic?

Akasaka

Senior Member
Japanese
Hello members,

It is said in my textbook that "By whom ..." is old-fashioned, and should not be used in daily use. But how about the following two sentences?

a) By whom is her dog being taken care of?
b) Who is her dog being taken care of by?

Is sentence b) preferable to sentence a)? Sentence b) sounds to me more unnatural.

Thanks in advance.
 
  • Glenfarclas

    Senior Member
    English (American)
    But how about the following two sentences?
    a) By whom is her dog being taken care of?
    b) Who is her dog being taken care of by?

    Is sentence b) preferable to sentence a)? Sentence b) sounds to me more unnatural.
    Both sentences are very unnatural because we would not use the passive voice to ask such a question. Instead:

    c) Who is taking care of her dog?
     

    Akasaka

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    Thanks, Glenfarclas. I see your point. But I should use such a sentence in some circumstance, which is more natural?
     

    Akasaka

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    Thanks again, Glenfarclas. This is a quiz from my drillbook, but it is just for exercising theoretically how to make a sentence into passive voice, I guess.:)
     

    pachanga7

    Senior Member
    English - US
    Hi Akasaka,

    This is a problem that comes up periodically in English: the tension between what is technically correct and how people actually talk. If you say #1 you will sound stilted and stuffy, and #2 is fine when talking to friends but is not suitable for situations in which you wish to sound educated.

    Glenfarclas has proposed a very good, and much-used, solution for people like us who care about language usage but not so much so that we’re willing to come across as a total pedant: restructure what you’re saying so as to sound both natural and correct.
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    Regardless of the particular sentence, type b) is always more natural. We always say 'who . . . by'. We usually write it too. There is no level of formality in which 'by whom' is preferable, though it is an acceptable alternative in formal writing.
     

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    I should prefer b to a, and then use neither. The active as suggested by Glenfarclas in #2 is almost always preferable to your exercise-book's passive. No excuses, now, Akasaka-san! :)
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    Just agreeing with your textbook's "old-fashioned" and disagreeing wth your thread title.
    I wouldn't say the passive is "archaic". It seems absurd in the example sentence, owing to the context, and with the preposition at the end it's also clumsy. But I think "By whom..?" isn't entirely out of fashion yet:

    Google Ngram Viewer

    Here, for example, the passive with " by whom" is neater than the active mood voice would have been:
    If there is controversy about the method of selection, how and by whom will it be resolved?
    The American Enterprise (1990)
     
    Last edited:

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I agree with all the above. But it strikes me that the main problem in this particular case is the use of a verb that includes a preposition: “take care of”. It simply doesn’t lend itself to a passive construction. But with a single-word verb, it would not be so bad:

    a) By whom is her dog being trained? :thumbsdown: (unsuitable for such an informal context)

    b) Who is her dog being trained by? :tick::thumbsup:
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    I find limited use of "by whom" but there are definite situations where I prefer it over "who" even in casual conversation.

    Pete: I've been told you have a monumental intellect.

    Packard: You've been told? By whom?


    Mark: I've heard you've spent the last 25 years in jail posting in Word Reference from the prison library.

    Packard: You've heard this? From whom?
     
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