When to Use That, Which, and Who

Hey guys, Welcome to this Mometrix video over the proper use of which, that, and who.

Being able to distinguish each of these words is very important, and can help you avoid being unknowingly insensitive as an author. For instance, if you refer to a person as a that, rather than a who, your audience could potentially read into that and think that you are being inconsiderate.

So, let’s take a look at when to properly use each, and hopefully avoid any mix-up.

For starters, it’s important to know which, that, and who may all operate as relative pronouns within a clause, or within a sentence. A relative pronoun just means that it references back to a person or thing already mentioned before.

Well, if they are all relative pronouns then how do we distinguish which one to use?

Ask yourself this question: what is the relative pronoun referring back to? A person, or a thing?

Look at these examples:

Celebrities are regular people who shop at grocery stores just like we do.

“Who,” is the relative pronoun referring back to people.

You need to bring your own workout clothes which you will need for gym class.

“Which,” is the relative pronoun referring back to clothes which is a thing.

I wore my running shoes that have the better insoles.

“That,” is the relative pronoun referring back to shoes which is a thing.

We can see, by looking at these examples, that which and that are relative pronouns that should be used when referring to things. In fact, the primary difference between who, that, or which is who should ONLY be used when referring to people or a person. Who should never be used when referring to things. Something that is worth noting is that a company or organization is made up of people, and typically when something happens within that company, it is the people who make it happen. So, you would also use who when referring to organizations. For example: “Yesterday, PerCos management, who just received their bonuses, bought lunch for everyone in the office.” “Who,” is the relative pronoun referring to “management” which is a group of people.

However, there are cases in which the company or organization is not referenced as a group of people. So, we need to read carefully. For example: PerCo, the company that was voted best workplace environment in 2018, will be moving to a different location.

Now, in this example “that” is the relative pronoun referring to “company” which is not specifically referring to a person or people.

Alright, hopefully, at this point, it’s very clear when to use “who,” and that “which” and “that” should only be used when referencing things. But, let’s look more closely at when to use “which” and when to use “that.”

In US English, a majority of rules and guidelines will suggest that you ought to use “that” when introducing a restrictive relative clause. Now, remember, a restrictive relative clause is a clause that, if removed, would make the sentence not make sense.

So, let’s look at some examples:

He took the route that was shortest.

It would be incorrect to say, “He took the route which was shortest.”

He put on the shoes that best went with his outfit.

If he said, “He put on the shoes which best went with his outfit,” this would be considered incorrect.

Now, you would use “which” when you have a non-restrictive relative clause. A non-restrictive relative clause is a clause that just adds more information to the sentence, but doesn’t change the meaning or structure of the sentence if it were to be removed.

Here are some examples:

Her doll, which she got when she was younger, had mud spots all over it.

The outfit she was wearing, which she got for her birthday, was bright and colorful.

It may be helpful for you to take some time to practice writing your own sentences using what we just learned to properly incorporate which, that, and who.

I hope that this video has been beneficial to you. If you enjoyed it then be sure to hit the like button, and subscribe to our channel for further videos.

See you guys next time!


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by Mometrix Test Preparation | This Page Last Updated: February 25, 2022