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    #1

    Relative pronouns: are who/which more common than that?

    Last week I was teaching relative pronouns. Following the ESL book, I said:
    "We use that/who to replace someone - as in Mary is one of my friends who/that came from Australia"
    "We use that/which to replace something - as in Asking questions in English forums is a situation which/that can be very addictive."
    "We may ommit the relative pronoun when the word which comes after it is not a verb as in This is the teacher (that/who) I was talking about."

    Then one student asked me: "Ok teacher I understood, but whenever you may use which/that, which of them 'they' use most?
    And regarding who/that, in a situation where both can be used, which one is used most (by 'them')?
    Well, I could not answer her question. Please help me !

    P.S. 1: What is written above is based on the American ESL book I use, if you do not agree with it please let me know.
    P.S. 2: The problem regarding who/whom is somewhat postponed by the book.
    P.S. 3: Feel free to correct mistakes on this post.

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    #2

    Re: Relative pronouns: are who/which more common than that?

    i think that which and that really have the same meaning, but sometimes we need to use which more than that , and some other times 'that' more than which, it depends to the meaning of the sentence..
    and same to who and that!

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    #3

    Re: Relative pronouns: are who/which more common than that?

    Still I don't have an answer.

    What I would like to know is, on common spoken English, when one can use both that/which or that/who, with which frequency, approximatelly of course,
    one choses one or the other?

    I have researched a little on the subject, and I know it is not such a simple matter, but I would like to know some opinions from UsingEnglish users.


    P.S.: Feel free to correct any mistakes in this post.


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    #4

    Smile Re: Relative pronouns: are who/which more common than that?

    Quote Originally Posted by ymnisky View Post
    Last week I was teaching relative pronouns. Following the ESL book, I said:
    "We use that/who to replace someone - as in Mary is one of my friends who/that came from Australia"
    "We use that/which to replace something - as in Asking questions in English forums is a situation which/that can be very addictive."
    "We may ommit the relative pronoun when the word which comes after it is not a verb as in This is the teacher (that/who) I was talking about."

    Then one student asked me: "Ok teacher I understood, but whenever you may use which/that, which of them 'they' use most?
    And regarding who/that, in a situation where both can be used, which one is used most (by 'them')?
    Well, I could not answer her question. Please help me !

    P.S. 1: What is written above is based on the American ESL book I use, if you do not agree with it please let me know.
    P.S. 2: The problem regarding who/whom is somewhat postponed by the book.
    P.S. 3: Feel free to correct mistakes on this post.
    In a restrictive adjective clause, "that" is more common, though we do use "which" in restrictive adjective clauses as well. To me, using "which" in a restrictive adjective clause sounds more formal or serious.

    It's hard to say whether "who" or "that" is more common to identify a person in an adjective clause. However, "that", I believe, sounds more informal. Some people say that we can only use "who" to identify a person in an adjective clause, but this is not really the case, and I would take such advice with a grain of salt. Just listen, and say "okay" if someone says this to you, unless, of course, they aim this advice directly at your students in your presence.

    I think that using "that" in place of "who" might be slightly more common, but I also think it's safe to say that it could be 50-50. I think it's hard to say.

    Remember that "who" and "which" are required for non-restrictive clauses and commas are required - added information in the case of "which", and a clause that identifies a person or tells about a person in the case of "who".

    Joe, who works as a field service manager, speaks to customers every day.

    Last edited by PROESL; 17-Aug-2009 at 22:01.


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    #5

    Re: Relative pronouns: are who/which more common than that?

    I can't even imagine the tedium that would be involved in researching an answer to your question, if I understand it properly. The word someone chooses to use--independent of the prescribed rules in the grammar books--varies not even by the individual person but by the individual instance. I tend to follow prescriptivist rules when I speak (i.e., only using 'who' for people and only using 'which' for non-restrictive clauses), but there are certainly cases when I don't. I'd tell your student that such a concern should be reserved for someone whose English ability is so nearly flawless that they finally begin to worry about minutiae that almost no native speaker even knows about, let alone cares.

    I have noticed that British speakers tend to be more flexible with the rules here when they speak. This is just personal observation.

    Your rule about dropping the relative clause is not quite right. There are a few different rules for doing this, such as when the clause is followed by a prepositional phrase or a progressive verb. I'd recommend looking up 'reduced relative clause' on Google and seeing what you find.

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    #6

    Re: Relative pronouns: are who/which more common than that?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mr. Spivey View Post
    Your rule about dropping the relative clause is not quite right. There are a few different rules for doing this, such as when the clause is followed by a prepositional phrase or a progressive verb.
    I was expecting someone say something about it.

    First: It is not my rule. As I told you before, that is exactly what is written on the American ESL book I use. That book was chosen by the course I work, not by me. In general terms it is a quite good book regarding its purposes. I like it (and I think I learn from it more than my students themselves do).

    Second: I think that 'rule', which I didn't know before, is fairly adequate for the students on the so called 'intermediate level'. At this point of knowledge the students don't understand grammar details. Actually the majority of them only want to know to express themselves on English, regarding the four basic skills and many of them do not know grammar rules even on their mother tongue. To resume, I think as a kind of 'rule of thumb' as you say, this 'rule' does the job here.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mr. Spivey View Post
    I'd recommend looking up 'reduced relative clause' on Google and seeing what you find.
    You can say that again! For sure I'll do that, thanks for your advice.

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    #7

    Re: Relative pronouns: are who/which more common than that?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mr. Spivey View Post
    I can't even imagine the tedium that would be involved in researching an answer to your question,
    "Learn everything, nothing is superfluous"
    Hugh of St. Victor


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    #8

    Smile Re: Relative pronouns: are who/which more common than that?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mr. Spivey View Post
    I can't even imagine the tedium that would be involved in researching an answer to your question, if I understand it properly. The word someone chooses to use--independent of the prescribed rules in the grammar books--varies not even by the individual person but by the individual instance. I tend to follow prescriptivist rules when I speak (i.e., only using 'who' for people and only using 'which' for non-restrictive clauses), but there are certainly cases when I don't. I'd tell your student that such a concern should be reserved for someone whose English ability is so nearly flawless that they finally begin to worry about minutiae that almost no native speaker even knows about, let alone cares.

    I have noticed that British speakers tend to be more flexible with the rules here when they speak. This is just personal observation.

    Your rule about dropping the relative clause is not quite right. There are a few different rules for doing this, such as when the clause is followed by a prepositional phrase or a progressive verb. I'd recommend looking up 'reduced relative clause' on Google and seeing what you find.
    I feel that I would have to say that using "who" to identify a person in a relative clause is not really a rule set forth by prescriptivist grammar because it is equally well-established and known that we can also use "that" and it is as equally correct to do so. Using "who" simply sounds more formal, but I don't feel, as others do not feel, that it is a rule of any sort that one should choose "who" instead of "that' to identify a person in an adjective clause.

    I hope this is helpful to all.

    Last edited by PROESL; 17-Aug-2009 at 22:03.

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    #9

    Re: Relative pronouns: are who/which more common than that?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mr. Spivey View Post
    I can't even imagine the tedium that would be involved in researching an answer to your question, if I understand it properly.
    Perhaps not as much as one might think, given the availability of machine-readable corpora and search tools. In fact I would be surprised if some such study has not already been done. I would be quite interested in any approach that sheds light on the question of how natural the English we teach people really is.

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