A person that wishes to know if he or she should use the word “that” or “who” should know that “who” is for people and “that” should be used for anything else. Therefore , the proper way to begin this paragraph is: “A person who…”
Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral?
I guess some ethologists might call a chimp, gorilla, or bonobo “who”, and I can see one might go either way on that one depending on how close to being persons one believes primates to be. And, of course, because we persons are not “mineral” or “vegetable” in the popular classification, we must be “animal” and, therefore, primate. I say this because most people do not resemble reptiles, birds, or fish—people resemble the great apes, the primates. Or, the great apes resemble people. How you say it depends on your level of ego, I guess. But, this is another thought for another day.
TO RETURN TO THE ORIGINAL POINT, GREAT APES ASIDE
A dog that runs away might need a better leash.
A table that wobbles is annoying, especially when it causes cups of hot coffee to slosh each time one stands up from it.
A plumber who charges too much won’t get a lot of work.
A nurse is a person who cares for others who are sick.
Using the word “that” in the place of the word “who” might be incorrect, but it isn’t a matter that would lose you a position at the bank or as a barista, most likely. However, if you are an editor and you miss correcting “that” when your author means “who”, then you haven’t completely done your job.
We all do it though. We’ve all missed it. Most likely because we hear the word “that” used so often wrongly in speech or we’ve seen it written so often wrongly in text that we tend to hear it or skim over it as if it’s correct.
I have a good friend who finds the use use of “that” when discussing people most irritating. It is something I too have noticed in some television show dialogue, and when the Talking Heads on the News (who make an obscene amount of money every day to get it right) say it without blinking a makeup-gunked eye. I’ve seen it written in the newspaper and in some books as well (the latter not used cleverly by the author in a character’s dialogue, but by the author while writing narrative—or, perhaps unintentional on the author’s part and missed by the editor at the publishing house). People write it in texts and emails, too, and say it to their friends, but these people aren’t necessarily being paid to speak properly. The fact that they’re furthering the massacre of the English language aside–I guess we should cut them some slack. I’m sure I’ve slipped in a text or email too. It’s the place we all relax our grammatical standards.
But next time you begin to tell a friend about “the gardener that shrieked at me to use the walkway, not the lawn,” remember that you are using the wrong word here. Not the end of the World, no, but an annoyance to logophiles everywhere.
Anyway, I thought I’d mention it.
by Jean Foster Akin
photo credit Upsplash.com