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Thread: who v. that

  1. Will

    who v. that

    When is it correct to use 'who', and when is it correct to use 'that'? Are there any guidelines, and are they interchangeable?


    I know someone who likes to read.


    I know someone that likes to read.

    • Join Date: Apr 2003
    • Posts: 519
    Taken from

    "Using "who" for people, "that" for animals and inanimate objects

    In fact there are many instances in which the most conservative usage is to refer to a person using "that": "All the politicians that were at the party later denied even knowing the host" is actually somewhat more traditional than the more popular "politicians who." An aversion to "that" referring to human beings as somehow diminishing their humanity may be praiseworthily sensitive, but it cannot claim the authority of tradition. In some sentences, "that" is clearly preferable to "who": "She is the only person I know of that prefers whipped cream on her granola." In the following example, to exchange "that" for "who" would be absurd: "Who was it that said, 'A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle'?"*

    *Commonly attributed to Gloria Steinem, but at least one source says she was quoting Irina Dunn."

  2. Will
    Ok, the bold part was clear and consise, but the paragraph below that confused me. It made it sound like who and that can be interchangeable. Can they be? Or was the bold printed part the rule?

    • Join Date: Apr 2003
    • Posts: 519
    As far as I understand it, the bold was the title - it was referring to a 'rule' that people say exists. The paragraph below was trying to explain why this was a 'non error' (The whole page was about non errors, kind of like a page dispelling myths, if you will)

  3. Will
    So, there really is no rule; use what sounds the best?

    • Join Date: Apr 2003
    • Posts: 519
    To be honest Will, I'm like you - I'm not sure (I usually use what sounds best!)

    Maybe we should wait for one of the others to impart their wisdom upon us? :wink:

  4. Will
    I think we shall. :)

    • Join Date: Apr 2003
    • Posts: 519
    BTW Will, your location is intruiging..... :wink:

  5. Will
    Thanks. I'm just trying to show my absolute disdain for this "wonderful" small town.

  6. RonBee's Avatar
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    • Join Date: Feb 2003
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    Quote Originally Posted by Will
    So, there really is no rule; use what sounds the best?
    That's good enough for me. :wink:

    In common usage, "that" is often used as a pronoun referring to people. In fact, there are times when "that" is preferable to "who".

    • He is the oldest man that I know.
      There is the woman that I met at that party.
      That is the boy that hit me.
      There is that red-haired girl that plays piano.
      There is that guy that I talked to yesterday.
      He is the biggest liar that I know.
      She is the person that I talked to on the phone.

    Usage dictates when to use one in preference to the other. In any case, few people these days follow the "rule" of using "who" for people and "that" for everything else.

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