That versus Who


I was IM’ing with a buddy of mine today when he asked me to proof read a blog post before he published it. I obliged, and found practically no errors (not a surprise, the man is a genius).

Anyway, later in he day, he teased me about missing several instances of the word “that” when it should have been “who.” Example:

“I know a guy that once at a McDonlad’s Cheeseburger in one bite.”


“I know a guy who once at a McDonlad’s Cheeseburger in one bite.”

This sparked a little debate between us. Oh, don’t worry; it was a fun debate… we have them all the time (in fact, we have practically started a list of debates that we can pull from whenever bored). You see, I am not a believer. I don’t think that using “who” when the object is a person is a must.

His point was that there are several (probably in the thousands) of websites that prove that point. Go ahead, google it. To his credit, it is the popular consensus. I, however, do not always believe the popular consensus. This is the perfect example.

I think that you can use either. “That” has been used in literature, instead of “who,” for YEARS. In fact, Websters Dictionary AND American Heritage Dictionary BOTH openly reject the idea that you must use “who” when the object is a person. I found a handful of other websites to back up my point as well, and that brings me to the real point of this little post…

If it isn’t a 100%, undisputed, without a doubt grammar rule, don’t try to nitpick it. Why? Because someone like me, who debates just for the sake of it, will find a legitimate source (like a dictionary) to prove you wrong. Ha!

Now, while I discourage you from nitpicking grammar when there is no “absolute,” I will NEVER discourage you from sharing your opinion with other writers. Just make sure that you disclose it as your “opinion.”

Official Disclaimer: I only took the side of “that” because it was a fun debate. I do think you can do it either way, but I don’t think those who believe that you have to use “who” are unintelligent. I hold no grudges toward those THAT (lol) choose to use “who” instead of “that”. And, for the record, Ryan (the person I debated with) may use it however he wants, and I will still think he is an excellent writer. 🙂

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2 Responses to “That versus Who”

  1. lol, I should have known it would become a blog post. And, yes, it was a fun debate.

    I will concede that you got me on the dictionary references, Shakespearean quotes, and the ESL class.

    I am one THAT uses ‘that’ in speech all the time, so I’m not totally against it. I do, however, know that many people have a problem reading ‘that’ when ‘who’ would be more personal/human. For those people, I want to make the post (or any of my writing) as clear as possible.

    And thanks for the genius compliment. Once you start rolling out your podcast the world is really going to start seeing your brilliance.

  2. roh morgon says:

    LOL – in the emphasis over ‘who’ vs. ‘that’, you forgot the ‘e’…

    But maybe that was the personal preference of the writer who was trying to make a point, and the reader that reads it will miss it entirely.

    Unless, of course, the reader is someone like me that can’t pass up an opportunity to poke fun at a rather talented writer who happens to mis-type every once in awhile.


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