"who" vs. "that"

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sun Jul 26 15:12:54 UTC 2009

At 10:52 AM -0400 7/26/09, Bill Palmer wrote:
>A current Kellogg's Special K commercial claims, "Research shows
>women THAT eat breakfast have fewer problems with weight" (last few
>words may not be exactly right, but you get the picture)
>I would have said "...women WHO...", because it just sounds more
>natural.  Are there any "prescriptions" for this?
>Bill Palmer
I'm sure we've discussed the general issue in threads {that/(*)which
Arnold, Ben, et al. can point us to, but this is another instance of
the taboo against "who"/"which" being used as relative pronouns to
introduce restrictive relative clauses.  The converse restriction,
that "who" or "which" rather than "that" be used as a relative
pronoun (or, depending on your theory, complementizer) in
non-restrictive clauses, does tend to conform to most actual usage,
but the grammar-checks on Word as well as various usage guides, still
arbitrarily proscribe "who"/"which" in at least some cases of
restrictive relative clauses where these pronouns seem perfectly
natural.  Thus consider:

(1) a. Women that eat breakfast have fewer problems with weight.
      b. Women who eat breakfast have fewer problems with weight.

(2) a. Women, who have two X chromosomes, start out as girls.
      b. Women, that have two X chromosomes, start out as girls.

The "rules" I referred to would knock out (1b) (which sounds
impeccable to me) and (2b) (which doesn't, while giving a gold star
to (1a) (which I agree sounds unnatural) and (2a) (which sounds fine,
at least as far as the relative clause goes).  Of course there's more
to it than this, as someone else will be pointing out shortly.


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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