Relative pronouns



It bothers me to see that used where who is clearly called for, as in this excerpt from my bike club newsletter:

.the driver that killed Bob.

Is there a rule for selecting the appropriate pronoun here?



Current descriptive grammars allow the relative pronoun that to refer to a person, although certainly prescriptive grammars would not recommend this. Information reported in Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English, by Biber, Johansen, Leech, Conrad, Finnegan (Longman, 1999, pp. 609-612), shows that that, as a subject relative pronoun used to refer to a human being, occurs very frequently in spoken language.

However, Longman Grammar also reports that, in news and in academic prose, who is used far more frequently than that.

The Grammar Book (Celce-Muria and Larsen-Freeman. Heinle and Heinle, 1999, p. 582), states that ".In informal conversational discourse, that is often preferred over either which or who(m). In written discourse, who(m) is preferred for human antecedents.."

Some people feel that it is subtly dehumanizing to refer to a person as that, and prefer who(m), even when the person referred to is a killer driver.

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