Who that?

Here’s a little quiz for anyone who is interested in relative pronouns.

Please jot down which sentence in the following sequence you believe is correct. 

1(a)  I am grateful for all the friends that came to my birthday party.
1(b)  I am grateful for all the friends who came to my birthday party.

2(a)  Thanks to all the veterans that served our country.
2(b)  Thanks to all the veterans who served our country.

3(a)  Everyone that has a pet should shop at PetSmart.
3(b)  Everyone who has a pet should shop at PetSmart.

4(a)  I know a lot of people that use “that” when “who” is the better choice.
4(b)  I know a lot of people who use “that” when “who” is the better choice.

If you chose (b) in each set of choices, you get an A. Perhaps I should say, you’d get an A if I were grading the quiz. It turns out that some authorities are more lax than others on this issue.

Before issuing a premature refresher, I did some research on relative pronouns and, in this case, restrictive relative pronouns, where the antecedent happens to be a person rather than a thing.

I was taught that people—and nouns that represent people—should be followed by “who” rather than “that.” In the examples above, friends, veterans and everyone refer to people.

However, a couple of sources maintain that both “that” and “who” are correct and are a matter of preference rather than rule.

But wouldn’t you agree that, in reference to a person, “who” is more polished, more personal and more exact?

Feel free to disagree; you can be the reader who stood up for “that.”

You’ll notice I haven’t yet addressed “that” versus “which.” Even though I know the rule on restrictive and non-restrictive clauses, it is one that trips me up frequently. Or is it which? I know, it’s that.

3 Comments

Filed under All Things Wordish

3 responses to “Who that?

  1. Dennis Jones

    I wish it was just that which that tripped me up. Nice piece.

  2. Jo

    THAT for people — it’s just ever right.

    We have a big job to do.

  3. I recently (well, two years ago now) looked into this exact question, and it turns out that “that” as a relative pronoun for people has never been wrong in English. In fact, originally “that” was the only relative pronoun for people. 18th century grammarians proposed that “who(m)” was more proper for people, but there’s no motivation for this within the grammar or history of English.

    Here’s the whole post for the details: http://motivatedgrammar.wordpress.com/2008/10/30/people-that-need-people-i-a-history-of-thatwho/

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