"who" vs. "that"

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Mon Jul 27 15:45:14 UTC 2009

At 11:10 AM -0400 7/27/09, Joel S. Berson wrote:
>>"which" would be pretty
>>insulting for animates of either sex (even with the Lord's Prayer as
>>evidence), but if it's "that" for restrictives vs. "who"/"which"
>>(depending on animacy) for non-restrictives, why would there be a
>My "problem" is that I look for the comma, and seem to ignore whether
>it's "who", "that", or "which" -- except for the occasional sour
>taste in my mouth.
>>The only problem I see is a descriptive one--that
>>speakers/writers simply don't follow these rules.  Then there are
>>minor problems:  "the dead (wo)man" takes "who" in NRRs (or RRs for
>>non-rule followers), "the male/female corpse" takes "which", and it's
>>never clear where to draw the lines within the animal kingdom.
>Personally (am I RR or NRR?), I would say "the corpse/body that",
>with or without "male/female".
Let's go with the comma diagnostic.  The minor problem with (loss of)
animacy I mention comes up only with the NRRs, i.e. the comma-flanked

The corpse, which/#who/#that was found at the bottom of the gully,...
The dead (wo)man, who/#which/#that was in the back bedroom,...

Of course, a corpse is not a person (even a dead one), but a body,
and that's presumably the relevant factor.  And if you remove the
commas or otherwise turn the relative clause into a restrictive one,
the "that" is fine for both.

I have a harder time figuring out the animals:  "My dog,
who/which/that I found wandering along the sidewalk,..." all sound
weird, for different reasons.


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