February 1, 2016

The 'Couple Who' or the 'Couple That'?

TOPICS: , ,

 

Here's a quick lesson on a finer point of using the relative pronouns "who" and "that."

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Click player above to listen to the podcast

  • Share

A Common Misconception About 'That'
Posted by June on February 1, 2016
LABELS: , ,

 

Related to, but not the same as, this week's podcast, here's a helpful fact about "that" and "who." A lot of people believe that you can't use "that" to refer to people: "There's the man that I was telling you about." People, these people will tell you, take "who."

If you look up "that" in the dictionary and read through its many, many definitions, you'll see that "that" can sometimes be used as a synonym of "who," making "the man that I was telling you about" grammatically correct.

But is it a good choice? That's another question entirely. In copy editing, we like to use the most precise words possible. If it's true that "that" can mean a person or a thing, "who" is the better choice for people because it can only mean one of those. It's more specific. But that's a preference, not a rule.

June Casagrande is a writer and journalist whose weekly grammar/humor column, “A Word, Please,” appears in community newspapers in California, Florida, and Texas. more

The Best Punctuation Book, Period

A Comprehensive Guide for Every Writer, Editor, Student, and Businessperson

The most comprehensive punctuation guide ever, “The Best Punctuation Book, Period” doesn’t just cover the basic rules. It delves into gray areas of punctuation left unclear by the other rule books, showing how the rules differ in four different editing styles. There's also an A to Z reference of commonly mispunctuated terms. more

Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies

A Guide to Language for Fun and Spite

What do suicidal pandas, doped-up rock stars, and a naked Pamela Anderson have in common? They’re all a heck of a lot more interesting than reading about predicate nominatives and hyphens. June Casagrande knows this and has invented a whole new twist on the grammar book. more

Mortal Syntax

Mortal Syntax takes on the 101 most frequently attacked usage choices. Dedicating one short chapter to each, Casagrande brings her subject to life, teaching English usage through lively and amusing personal anecdotes. more

It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences

Your story may be brilliant. Your insights may be groundbreaking. Your characters may be so real you can almost touch them. But they're not worth a thing if you can't bring them to life in well-written sentences. more

  • How to Punctuate "Hi, June" - Greetings and Direct Addresses

    June Cliff: Look up "till" in the dictionary. Not only does it mean "until," it actually predates it. It's the original. So, yes, a till is a cash register. But it also means "until." In fact, 'til is considered an error in professional publishing. (Keep your eyes peeled when reading books and newspapers and you'll see that 'til is nonexistent!)

  • Lineup, Line Up, Line-up

    June Sandra: Sorry for the very late reply. I bet your argument is long forgotten by now. "Line up" is the verb form. "Lineup" is a noun. Your sentence uses it as a noun, like "Lunch is at 10 a.m." So if you were telling people to line up at 10 a.m., you'd want the two-word form. But because you're saying that the thing, the lineup, is at 10 a.m., you want the one-word form.

  • Under Way vs. Underway

    June Steven Alper: Thanks for your comment. I had missed the AP style change from "under way" to "underway." I appreciate the link!

  • Drive Safe vs Drive Safely: Another Flat Adverbs Question

    June Allen R.: Sorry it took so long to reply. Both "readers' questions" and "reader questions" are acceptable. In "reader questions," I'm just choosing to use "reader" adjectivally instead of as a possessive. (Both valid forms.) There's a term for this, "attributive noun." Just like the noun "hat" works as an adjective in "hat store," lots of nouns can sometimes modify other nouns, making them "attributive" (aka like adjectives). Note, however, that your question using "reader's" would be appropriate only if we were talking about just one reader because you need the plural possessive readers' to show possession by more than one.

  • Lineup, Line Up, Line-up

    June Hi, Pam. Actually there's no rule against splitting infinitives -- and there never was. You can search this site for the keywords "split infinitive" for lots more on the subject.