Tuesday, September 8, 2009

How To Use That, Which, Who and Whom

As promised, here are a few more pesky words and how to use them.

Who and Whom

In most cases, “who/whom” refers to human beings. According to the American Heritage Book of English Usage, "Who is used for a grammatical subject, where a nominative pronoun [one that acts as the subject of a verb] such as I or he would be appropriate, and whom is used as the object of a verb or preposition."

Here is a helpful tip from The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation:

If you can replace a word with "he" or "she," then it is the subject of the sentence and you should use "who." If you can replace the word with "him" or "her," it is the object and you should use "whom."


She goes to my doctor, who is the best in town. To whom did you speak? Tom is the person with whom I spoke. (Though frankly, I find it easier to just say “I spoke to Tom.”) :D

When it comes to That and Which:

“That” is used when referring to things. “Which” should never be used in reference to humans and is often used to introduce phrases that give additional information or asides.


This book isn’t that interesting. The year that I was born, there was a big storm. (When it comes to “that,” you can often just delete it. “The year I was born, there was a big storm.”)

My book, which I published a year ago, is still a best-seller. (Ha! Thought I’d slip a nice daydream in there)


Kristen Torres-Toro said...

Thanks for the reminder and the daydream, Michelle! Have a great day!

Tana said...

That helps. Thanx.

Joshua McCune said...

Many books I've read use 'which' frequently in place of 'that.' Very frustrating. I'm not a grammar Nazi, but I'm close. Not sure which annoys me more: the that/which issue or the misuse/misunderstanding of the conditional/subjunctive.

Laura Martone said...

Hi, Michelle! I appreciate the grammar lesson. Usually, I'm pretty comfortable with the proper usage of who, whom, that, and which, but where I get hazy is when a phrase involves an animal. In my opinion, the "human" rule applies to animals, too - especially when the gender is apparent. But, when I follow this policy in Microsoft Word, the grammar program sometimes has a conniption.

For instance, here's a sentence from my WIP that confuses me a little:

"Devi watched Charlie, who was now pacing around the sewing room, sniffing the baskets, spools, and needles in his path, all of which he’d explored many times before."

Since it's about a dog named Charlie, not a human, do you think it's appropriate to use "who" here? Thanks for your input!

Teri said...

Thanks for the refresher! I swear I missed all my 8th grade grammar classes. I didn't learn how to parse or diagram a sentence until Advanced Linguistics in college. Who and Whom always give me grief!

Unknown said...

I can't TELL you how important this post is!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I can NEVER figure that out. EVER and you just nailed it for me. OMG Michelle. Thanks SOOOOO much! I am bookmarking this.

Michelle McLean said...

Thanks guys! Always happy to pass along good info :)

Bane - don't you just hate finding mistakes in published books?! I mean, I make more than my fair share of goofs (much more!) but I always assume that a published book that has gone through revisions and editors should be a little more polished than what I come up with myself. I guess when you are a successful writer, you can get away with anything :D Really, my dream is to become a NYT bestseller just so I can start tossing in adverbs wherever I please! :D

Hi Laura! I'd use "who" for an animal. I don't know if that is "technically" correct :) but it is in my book ;-D

Teri - I hate who and whom...HATE them :D I'll go out of my to reword a sentence just to avoid using them sometimes :D As for diagramming sentences....I don't think I've done that since the 8th grade (and I have a masters in English!) I did used to enjoy doing it, though, but I am shamefully out of practice :D

And Suzanne - LOL so glad to help. Seriously, that is why I wrote this post. I had to look up the rule the other day and thought I'd pass along the info :D

Dawn Simon said...

Thanks for the reminders. I really liked your book example. ;)

My two cents: I, too, would use "who", especially in a book with anothropomorphism.

Elana Johnson said...

Love the daydream. ;-)

Laura Martone said...

Thanks, Michelle!

Michelle D. Argyle said...

Great information here. Thanks!