Betty from Williamsburg
called to decry the blurring between who and that when
used as relative pronouns.
The traditional rule
says that who should be
reserved for humans and that
for objects. So we’d write, “The man who did this ran away after the
murder,” but “The weapon that killed his victim was a Glock.” This distinction is still useful and
should be maintained.
Two other paired
relative pronouns – that and which – also cause some confusion. The preferred usage
is to write that when it
starts a restrictive clause – a group of words containing necessary
information: The dog that bit me was a Bouvier. The clause “that bit me”
cannot be left out and still convey the full meaning. I’m not speaking of just
any Bouvier; I’m pinpointing the one that bit me.
If the clause is
nonrestrictive – a group of words containing extra information – use the word which: The Bouvier, which was brindle in color,
bit me. Note also that the nonrestrictive clause is encased in commas, while
the restrictive clause is not.
- She carefully studied the chapter that
- She carefully studied Chapter 5, which
- The history play that Shakespeare wrote
in 1599 was Julius Caesar.
- Julius Caesar, which Shakespeare wrote in
1599, was a history play.
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