Seen in a National workforce report: “… top performers are the ones thatwill 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).
4.(usedrelativelyinrestrictiveandnonrestrictiveclausestorepresentaspecifiedantecedent,theantecedentbeingapersonorsometimesananimalorpersonifiedthing)** (see comment below):Anykidwhowantstocanlearntoswim.
*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) whothat choose to use that in certain references to humans.