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Who vs. that vs. which

Posted by Maria Murnane | January 1, 2013

I see “who,” “that,” and “which” used incorrectly pretty much every day, so I thought it was worth a blog post to clear up the confusion. Here we go:

Who refers to people:

  • She is a person who cares about others.
  • You are an author who needs to understand the importance of good grammar.
  • We need to hire someone who can get the job done quickly.

That is used for animals and inanimate objects:

  • They have one of those little dogs that can jump high and catch Frisbees.
  • She works for a fun company that provides free lunch every day.
  • Math is a subject that always gave me a lot of trouble in high school.

Which is used for animals and inanimate objects only when it appears at the beginning of a dependent clause (set off by commas), OR when you’ve already used that in the same sentence, OR if it’s preceded by a preposition.

  • I saw a documentary that featured a company which was about to go bankrupt.
  • His position, which I don’t think is valid, is that he was acting ethically when he fired her.
  • I’m sorry to be so blunt, but this job is one for which you’re simply not qualified.

I know it looks like a lot to swallow, but the rules are pretty straightforward if you stick to them. In a future post, I’ll address who vs. whom and whoever vs. whomever. I know those are also a mystery to many people.

Happy New Year!


This blog post originally appeared on Reprinted with permission. © 2012 CreateSpace, a DBA of On-Demand Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.



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