When to Use WHO and When to Use THAT
Contributor
Written by
Maria Murnane
August 2016
Contributor
Written by
Maria Murnane
August 2016

I keep reading (and hearing) authors use the pronoun "that" when they should be using the pronoun "who," so I thought I'd do a refresher post on the difference between the two.

WHO refers to people

  • I am the one who is writing this blog post.
  • You are the one who is reading the blog post.

THAT refers to things

  • The blog post that grabbed my attention the most was the one about pronouns.
  • The topics that seem to be the most popular with my readers are grammar, writing, and book marketing.

1) From an interview about a debut novel:

WHAT HE SAID: "I have two boys that judged me at every turn."

WHAT HE SHOULD HAVE SAID: "I have two boys who judged me at every turn."

(Reason: Boys are people, not things.)

2) From an author bio:

WHAT IT SAYS: Lisa's daughters were the ones that encouraged her to write, saying she should turn the bedtime stories she made up for them into a book.

WHAT IT SHOULD SAY: Lisa's daughters were the ones who encouraged her to write, saying she should turn the bedtime stories she made up for them into a book.

(Reason: Daughters are people, not things.)

3) From a book description:

WHAT IT SAYS: The story takes place in a dystopian society where teenagers are the ones that rule the land.

WHAT IT SHOULD SAY: The story takes place in a dystopian society where teenagers are the ones who rule the land.

(Reason: Teenagers are people, not things.)

Got it? People: WHO, things: THAT. Now get writing!

-Maria

Maria Murnane is the best-selling author of the Waverly Bryson series, Cassidy Lane, Katwalk, and Wait for the Rain. She also provides consulting services to aspiring and published authors. Have questions? You can find her at www.mariamurnane.com.

 

This blog post originally appeared on CreateSpace.com. Reprinted with permission. © 2016 CreateSpace, a DBA of On-Demand Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.

 

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Comments
  • Valerie J. Brooks

    Thank you so much, Maria, for addressing this issue. I go bonkers reading the misuse of "that" when referring to people. I also blister at the use of "I've got" instead of "I have." (Sometimes I feel like a curmudgeon when stomping my foot and using my red editing pen.)