1. marcusl
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    marcusl Member

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    People who did this

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by marcusl, Feb 20, 2010.

    When the subject is singular, you go:

    The person who played tennis was cool.

    But what about when the subject is plural? Is it:

    The people who played tennis were cool.

    I'm confused, because I've seen writers use:

    The people that played tennis were cool.

    You know, using 'that' instead of 'who'.

    Thanks for your advice.
     
  2. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    people are 'who' and things are 'that'... period!
     
  3. cboatsman
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    cboatsman Senior Member

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    Verbatim.

    Caleb
     
  4. dgraham
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    dgraham Senior Member

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    Actually, both "who" and "that" are generally accepted usages. This is one of those famous non-rules that a lot of people think must be a rule because it is "more logical", but in fact both are used.
     
  5. Humour Whiffet
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    Humour Whiffet Banned

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    [ALSO SEE MY POST BELOW FOR CLARIFICATION]

    When Fowler wrote The King’s English over a hundred years ago, the use of that to refer to a person was already going out of favour. I don’t have access to any books where I am at the moment, but I recall that he said that the use of the word that to refer to a person is considered very formal.

    All modern usage guides that I have read make a distinction. If you use that to refer to people in this day and age, editors are going to assume that you are clueless. (Perhaps that’s a bit strong, but it won’t look good.)

    Fowler’s Modern English Usage does say (again, I’m going on memory here) to use that to refer to groups of people. But if you are talking about a specific person, you use who.

    Good Grammar by Collins gives the following examples (again, I’m remembering these; therefore they are not exact quotes.)

    The mechanic who fixed my car. (You are referring to a specific person.)

    The mechanics that fixed my car. (You are referring to a group.)

    Of course, in the U.S. this distinction may not even exist—I don’t know.
     
  6. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    You have two questions wrapped up as one, I think.;)

    Question one: The Verb. "Were" is plural and should be used with "people," which is also plural. So, "The people who played tennis were cool."

    Question two: The Pronoun. When speaking of people do you use "that" or "who"? (This has nothing to do with verb tense.) Grammatically, either "that" or "who" is fine and doesn't change the fact that "people" is still plural. "That" can apply to either things or to persons, but is somewhat less precise than "who" when associated with human beings (and suggests a kind of insult). I can't think of an example where I would opt for "that" rather than "who," but it's not incorrect to do so. Note: unlike "that," the word "which" cannot be used instead of "who," when it refers to people.

    So: "The people that played tennis were cool." is correct, but not likely preferred over "The people who played tennis were cool."
     
  7. Humour Whiffet
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    Humour Whiffet Banned

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    To clarify what I said above (now that I am home and have had a chance to check):

    Fowler’s Modern English Usage says that that can replace who when the reference is non-specific. For example, “The person that I saw was a woman.”

    Collins Good Grammar says, “generally, that is used to refer to any persons, and who to a particular person...”

    But if I were you, I’d forget all the exceptions and just do as mammamaia suggested.
     
  8. Danno
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    Danno New Member

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    One of those who is (or are)

    I agree with ManhattanMss, that you had two questions. And I agree with both answers, too. Except concerning the tense question, when there is the special construction, "one of those who…" There is a special case for that one, and it is one I have been researching lately.

    The "authorities" are split as to proper tense when you have something like the following: It was one of those days that "are" (or "is") remembered. It is something of a raging controversy, and you can be labeled as correct (or incorrect!) whichever alternative you choose. It is a bit frustrating, to say the least, when you are trying to adhere to rules, and there are two sets of them, which disagree.
     
  9. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm sorry, but both 'who' and 'that' can refer to people. There is no such thing as 'editors thinking you are clueless if you use that in this day and age'. It is still current.
     
  10. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    Yes, I can see exactly the problem you're highlighting. I've wondered about it a time or two in my own writing--i.e., whether the verb is to agree with the "one of" (which would be singular) or with "those days" (which is clearly plural). I think a case could be made for either.
     
  11. Humour Whiffet
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    Humour Whiffet Banned

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    Oh, I agree. But it is contrary to what most usage guides recommend, and if you’re looking for a reason not to read on, the use of that to refer to a specific person does grate. It looks plain odd these days. (I qualify the clueless bit, too!)

    Of course, only who should refer to a person in a non-restrictive relative clause. So if you write “my brother, that lives in Coventry, is going to visit me next week” it’s not going to look too good!
     
  12. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    I did a little googling on this.

    Interestingly, this is a subject of debate. There are grammarians who will tell you that "who" must be used for a person, and there are other grammarians who will tell you that "who" or "that" are perfectly acceptable.

    I found one site that points out the controversy and actually provides sources that give you each viewpoint. It is of note, however, that great writers through history have used "that" to refer to a person.

    The site even makes an interesting point: that the possessive of who, whose, can be used to refer to a thing because there is no possessive of that. Ex: The desk whose top is cluttered with grammar books...

    The "who verses that" debate appears to be one of those gray areas.

    The sentence would be incorrect even if it wasn't a person.
    The problem isn't "who vs. that," but "which vs. that."

    I found the following grammar rule: That introduces essential clauses while which introduces nonessential clauses.

    "That lives in Coventry" is a nonessential clause.

    So, even this is incorrect:
    "My desk, that sits in Coventry, is going to be brought to me next week."

    Correct would be:
    "My desk, which sits in Coventry, is going to be brought to me next week."

    So now, when talking about your brother (we do that a lot, don't we?) we have a new question: who verses which.

    My brother, which lives in Coventry, is going to visit me next week.

    Is this sentence acceptable? I have no idea. :)

    I know of a prayer that in some translation begins, "Our Father, which art in heaven."

    Charlie
     
  13. Danno
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    Danno New Member

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    Danno that says something or other

    Fowler says, "…that is displaced by who where the relative refers to a particular person or persons, but holds its own better when the person is a type or generic. In 'It was you that did it,' the it defined is the doer--a type, not an individual…"

    So for Fowler, WHO is preferred for people unless the people are generically referred to.

    Bryan Garner (Garner's Modern American Usage) is the American version of Fowler. Garner waffles noticeably without specificity, saying "WHO is the relative pronoun for human beings (though THAT is also acceptable)."

    But as was already pointed out, Fowler wrote a century ago, and Garner was first published in 1998.

    My own personal recommendation on this would be to stick with "who" for people, and reserve "that" for non-people, in all questionable cases. And the reason is very much like what Humour Whiffet stated. Editors are, after all, people. And no matter how much they do or do not know, they still make judgements about your writing, sometimes very quick and painful judgements, not based on reflection but impression. And editors can not only think of the writer as clueless, they can occasionally be clueless, themselves. So I, too, suggest adhering to what Mammamaia said: Stick with WHO for people. If there is any option here that could conceivably cost you "points" with someone, it is probably using "that" with people. Even if it is more about playing it safe than being accurate or correct, why not play it safe?

    P.S. Can somebody please tell me how to get italics to format correctly in this forum?
     
  14. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    Just like bold.
    Highlight the desired text and click the little I icon.
    For bold, highlight the desired text and click the little B icon.

    It will automatically put in something that looks like this but without the spaces:


    [ I ] italicized text [ /I ]

    Good point though.

    Who or That are perfectly acceptable. However, use "Who" for people, because a particular editor or publisher might be a moron and mistakenly think you're a moron.

    I'll buy that.

    Use "Who" for people.

    (Note: To all publishers and editors reading this who believe you must use "Who," not because they say so, but because it's correct, please accept my apologies. I'm a moron. But please, publish my book. ;) )
     
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  15. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    'that' is superfluous there... it reads better without it... for correct grammar, to replace it with 'who' would be incorrect... would have to be 'whom'... but either 'whom' or 'that' makes for an awkward sentence... reads more smoothly as, "The person I saw was a woman."
     
  16. Humour Whiffet
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    Humour Whiffet Banned

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    The example was taken from Fowler's Modern English Usage. But you're right--the that does seem superfluous in any event!

    In brief (re which v. that):

    For a restrictive relative clause, use that.

    Non-restrictive, use which.

    If you live in the U.K then you can also use which for a restrictive relative clause.

    NEVER use that for a non-restrictive relative clause.
     

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