Grammar Talk: Who vs. That

As a self-proclaimed grammar Nazi, I have many pet peeves when it comes to grammar used incorrectly, but lately, one thing has been irritating me above all the others: who versus what.  Let me explain the context of this particular situation.

Typically, this crops up when someone is referring either to a person or object.  For example...

– Do you know the man that turns into the Hulk when he gets angry?  (It physically hurt to write that)

– The woman that owns the pink house by the lake is my aunt.

I see this happen all the time, and it drives me nuts.  The correct way to write this is, "the woman who owns the house..." and "the man who turns into the Hulk...".

By using the word that when referring to a person, you are referring to them as an object, because you would say, "the vase that is blue," or "the serum that is dangerous."  The use of 'who' further distinguishes them as a person.

So, the rule is: when talking about a person, use who.  When talking about a thing, use that.  However, when I did a little research on this issue, just to make sure I was right, I ran across a weird (annoying) thing.  In the Grammar Girl's post here on this issue, she explains that in the American Heritage Dictionary, it allows either 'that' or 'who' to be used when referring to a person.  However, she prefers to stick with the strict rule because, once again, the use of 'that' as a relative pronoun when regarding humans make them seem less than human, and unless you're trying to do so, no one would intentionally want to do that.

To me, it just sounds wrong to say, "the guy that did so and so", and therefore I will be sticking to my guns and encouraging you to do so too.

I hope you enjoyed this slightly informative post and I will be back this weekend to talk about War & Peace!  xo, Ella

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