Who vs. That

I don’t know how I never thought of this topic, but luckily a friend thought of it for me, so it’s being made. 😀 This is going to be a pretty short and sweet post. These words aren’t too difficult, it’s just that many people don’t know you’re not always supposed to use “that.” So let’s begin!

Who

You use “who” when referring to a single person: “Kelly, who likes ice cream, went to the store.” Notice that the dependent clause (“who likes ice cream”) can be removed from the sentence without changing the meaning.

That

You use “that” when referring to a group or an inanimate object (such as a desk). For example, “I do not like that book.” Or, using a group of people: “I do not like that football team.” Those of you who have read my that vs. which post will notice “that” is not like “who” and you cannot remove it from the sentence without damaging the intent of the sentence.

Note: If you want to add additional information that CAN be removed, you use “which”: “The team, which is currently in first place, is very talented.”

Trouble Spots

So there is a bit of a gray area when it comes to non-human animate objects, particularly our pets. Some people say, “I have a cat that has gray fur.” Other people say, “I have a cat who has gray fur.” Although, technically, it should probably be “that,” many people use “who” and it’s generally accepted.

Final Thoughts

If you remember that “who” is with people and “that” is with objects, you should be–for the most part–fine. Good luck!

Posted in Grammar Quick Fix.

7 Comments

  1. What do you do with this:

    Individuals and organizations (who/that) want justice should read the Gazaette.

    • That’s actually a really tough call and I’m not entirely sure. There’s two ways of looking at it–“individuals” is your primary subject, so you could use “who.” However, “organizations” is also part of the subject and is the last one, which would make some people prefer “that.”

      When I run into situations where I have no clue what to do (which sometimes happens, particularly with trying to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition), I tend to try to rephrase the sentence entirely. I can think of a few ways to rephrase it while maintaining the meaning. I’ll try to get back to you with what to do when I have a bit more time to research it. Good question, and good luck!

  2. I love your site. I have been learning enlgish since I was a child but I have never stayed for more than 1 month in an english speaking country, so your posts have been useful to me!
    Thank you!

  3. Hi Kelly! Its Louisa. I have a grammar question from my mom who is about to print hundreds of fliers for her business. She has the following sentence:

    We have experience in both
    furniture restoration and conservation
    and can make treatment decisions
    which are sensitive to the historic
    value of your antiques.

    Should it be which or THAT? My least favorite grammar question of all time is which vs. that. In searching your site all I found was Who vs. What. If you have a chance, can you explain which vs. that in this context?
    Thanks!!!

  4. Which is correct – WSE is a community who strive for excellence or WSE is a community that strives for excellence?

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