RE: that vs who

Subject: RE: that vs who
From: "Downing, David" <david -dot- downing -at- Fiserv -dot- com>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 2 Apr 2009 08:48:49 -0500

From: Peter Neilson <neilson -at- windstream -dot- net>
Subject: that vs who

"Any user >who< desires good results follows the instructions carefully."

"Any user >that< desires good results follows the instructions carefully."

I encounter both of these constructions in everyday use, and have the
feeling that "who" is the correct usage. What accounts for the use of
"that" in referring to people? Is there a rule that confirms my
preference for "who" or one (of which I'm unaware) that prescribes "that"?

Perhaps people who fear distinguishing between "who" and "whom" are
using "that" to avoid any chance of being wrong. But that doesn't seem
possible. Here, for example, is a sentence where only "who" could
possibly appear, but never "whom" or "that": "My sister, who is arriving
tomorrow, is president of the Industrial Writers' Guild." And in the
interrogatory, only "who" or "whom" can appear: "Whom have you invited?"
"Who will be here?" Perhaps people avoid "who" because they feel it's
reserved for questions? Or because they dread sounding like owls?


I would agree that "who" is more appropriate than "that," because "that" makes a person sound like an inanimate object. I'm guessing the reason people use "that" is to emphasize the role -- user -- rather than the person.

David Downing
Senior Technical Writer
Credit Union Solutions


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