Editing for Grammarphobes 2.0: Who vs. That


Every Wednesday, Editing for Grammarphobes 2.0 features handy tips to enhance all of our writing, from daily emails to articles to books. After all, everyone needs to write, right?

Jeanette wrote:

Perhaps sometime you could tackle who vs. what. More often than not, I see sentences like the following.

"The boy that lives nearby…"

Isn’t it supposed to be this instead?

"The boy who lives nearby…"

My thought is that who should come after a person and that should come after a thing. No one seems to follow this, however. Is that becoming correct?

I’ve been hearing that used a lot more lately when referring to people as well, Jeanette, but it’s still not right.

Who is the pronoun that is supposed to be used in reference to human beings.

That may refer to people, animals, groups, or things, but who is still preferred when referring to people, according to numerous grammar sites.

While you’re on this topic, you might also like to read “That vs. Which” to help with restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses that inevitably come up in these situations.

Jeanette, thanks so much for your question.

If you have a question, email it to karen@karenberner.com, and I'll answer it here.

EFG Digest
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These five books are on my desk at all times. Maybe they'll help you as well.

The Associated Press Stylebook, 2017 edition
The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition
Strunk and White's The Elements of Style
Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition
The Bugaboo Review: A lighthearted guide to exterminating confusion about words, spelling, and grammar


A professional writer/editor for almost 30 years, Karen Wojcik Berner's wide and varied experience includes such topics as grammar, blog content, book reviews, corporate communications, the arts, paint and coatings, real estate, the fire service, writing and literature, research, and publishing. An award-winning journalist, her work has appeared in several magazines, newspapers, and blogs, including the Chicago Tribune, Writer Unboxed, Women's Fiction Writers, Naperville Magazine, and Fresh Fiction. She also is the author of three contemporary women's fiction novels and is a member of the Chicago Writers’ Association. For more information on Karen, please visit www.karenberner.com.


Sheryl Jeffries said…
I look forward to every Wednesday for your blog update!!!!
Thanks so much, Sheryl. That’s so nice to hear.
Anonymous said…
I see "that" when referring to people all the time, too. It keeps making me wonder whether I'm the one who is wrong.
You have the same problem as Jeanette, angel011, which is totally understandable. It does make you feel like you need to double check, doesn’t it?

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