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Who That?

Question of the Moment - What is Your Pet Peeve?
(Photo credit: Enokson)

One of my biggest grammar pet peeves (along with their/there/they’re and then/than) is when people incorrectly refer to the subjects within their sentences.

To make it simple: If you are talking about something, call it “that.”  If you are talking about someone, call them “who.”

Here is an example of a sentence that drives me up the wall:

Sally is a person that likes to play the piano.

The only way this sentence could be grammatically correct is if Sally is really a machine and not a person.  Since this is likely not the case, Sally should be referred to as “who.”  (Who or Whom, you ask?  Let’s save that for another one of my grammar rants… it’s harder to explain)

Here are some sentences that makes good grammatical sense:

This car is one that requires a lot of maintenance.

Our neighbours have a kid who is allergic to peanuts.

The car is an object.  Therefore, it can be referred to as “that.”  This is usually fairly intuitive to most people… I rarely ever see an object being referred to as a person.  The kid next door, However? Chances are he is a real person and therefore deserves to be referred to as such.  He is a “who.”

So, when you are going to refer back to a subject in your sentence by using the word “that,” Please, PLEASE, stop and ask yourself a simple question:

What am I referring to?

If you are referring to an object, then by all means, use “that.”  If, however, you are referring to a person, for the love of all things good and holy, please use “who.”

8 thoughts on “Who That?

  1. Love this post, it drives me mad too! Now for kind of a weird question: at the end where you put “related articles”, did you just tag search and then copy the links onto your page? Or is there some WordPress feature I’m not aware of? I only ask because I see it pretty frequently and my blog has been used on other people’s “related articles” sections, so just curious 🙂


    1. There is some thing called Zemanta or something. You have to activate it on your site somewhere (check in settings maybe). Anyway, when you write a post from the dashboard, it finds related articles for you and you can just pick the ones you want!


    1. Ohh! Yay! I love you too! You keep me grounded, and you have cute kids… and you share the challenge of motherhood and school… I could go on…


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