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Posts Tagged ‘inanimate’

Last year, we entered a brief blog post on this subject as our Grammar goof of the day. It went like this:

 Seen in a National workforce report: “… top performers are the ones that will become invaluable … through the economic downturn.” Should be: who 

Apparently, our preference and our usage reflects a strict adherence to an interpretation of the reference to animate vs. inanimate nouns* (see usage note below), and even more strictly, distinguishing human animateness from other life-like forms. 

Yikes, that’s confusing! What do we mean? Simply, we like who for any reference to people and that for any reference to things (or animals).  

We did some research …

WHO –pronoun; possessive whose; objective whom.

1. what person or persons?: Who did it?
2. (of a person) of what character, origin, position, importance, etc.: Who does she think she is?
3. the person that or any person that (used relatively to represent a specified or implied antecedent): It was who you thought.
4. (used relatively in restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses to represent a specified antecedent, the antecedent being a person or sometimes an animal or personified thing)** (see comment below): Any kid who wants to can learn to swim.
 
THAT –pronoun and adjective, plural those; adverb; conjunction –pronoun
 
1. (used to indicate a person, thing, idea, state, event, time, remark, etc., as pointed out or present, mentioned before, supposed to be understood, or by way of emphasis): That is her mother. After that we saw each other.
2. (used to indicate one of two or more persons, things, etc., already mentioned, referring to the one more remote in place, time, or thought; opposed to this): This is my sister and that’s my cousin.
3. (used to indicate one of two or more persons, things, etc., already mentioned, implying a contrast or contradistinction; opposed to this): This suit fits better than that.
4. (used as the subject or object of a relative clause, esp. one defining or restricting the antecedent, sometimes replaceable by who, whom,  or which): the horse that he bought.
5. (used as the object of a preposition, with the preposition standing at the end of a relative clause): the farm that I spoke of.
6. (used in various special or elliptical constructions): fool that he is.
  
*Usage note: That is used to refer to animate and inanimate nouns and thus can substitute in most uses for who(m) … Many of the workers that (or who) built the pyramids died while working.
  
**Comment: Experienced writers choose among these forms not only on the basis of grammar and the kind of noun referred to but also on the basis of sound of the sentence and their own personal preference.

So, we were humbled by our research and although we are pleased to have Grammar Girl on our side, we will let up on those (people) who that choose to use that in certain references to humans.

 

What is your preference?

References: dictionary.com, Grammar Girl, Chicago Manual of Style, Prentice Hall Reference Guide, The Gregg Reference Manual

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