I am struggling with the intuition behind understanding an antecedent as that part of speech which is 'referred back to' and coferential with a relative pronoun.

In the case 'Tom is kind, so I like him', I have an intuitive sense that both 'Tom' and 'him' are designating an entity, that this entity is identical, and that 'him' in some sense depends upon 'Tom' for its reference. Hence, 'Tom' is the antecedent for the pronoun 'him'.

However, in 'The person whom I like', I take it that I am to view 'The person' as the antecedent for the relative pronoun 'whom'. However, I lack an intuitive sense that 'whom' is actually designating anything. I think partly my lack of intuition here is down to the fact that I cannot directly substitute 'The person' with 'whom' in a sensible way.

On what grounds do we say that 'whom' is actually referential? Is it because the predication (is liked by me) truthfully applies both to 'The person' and 'whom'? Or is there another way to define antecedents for relative pronouns?

Thank you

  • 1
    I don't follow you. "Whom" is referential by virtue of having "person" as antecedent. Incidentally, 'antecedent' is not a part of speech. The part of speech of the antecedent ("person") in your example is noun.
    – BillJ
    Nov 14, 2023 at 9:11
  • no no no, etymologically it must be the *personoo and *me like, the u-ending later rebracketed as if an interrogative pronoun. This is comparable to ka diminutives, Slavic mashinka, German Maschinche "machine", doggy, doggo, dog, Old English docga etc.
    – vectory
    Nov 17, 2023 at 12:15

1 Answer 1


This is a bit obfuscated in English, where we move relative pronouns to the front of their clauses, but consider what role the "whom" is playing in the sentence—it's the direct object of "like". Underlyingly, the structure of this clause is "I like whom". And in this structure, the relationship between "I like whom" and "I like the person" is a lot more obvious.

  • Thank you very much, this clears things up a lot. Nov 12, 2023 at 20:36

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