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This question was on a test I recently took. What's the correct answer?

A poor man _____ I knew nursed the orphan. (a. whom, b. who c. that d. none of these)

  • Who and that are both acceptable when refering to a person. But I dont think the whole sentence is correct. – user178049 Jan 15 '17 at 11:35
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    They are all correct. You can use who(m) or that here, your you could drop the relative word completely. – Araucaria - Not here any more. Jan 15 '17 at 11:44
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    What Araucaria said. This is a horrible test question. – sumelic Jan 15 '17 at 17:07
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In very formal English, the most correct, least ambiguous version is:

a. A poor man whom I knew nursed the orphan.

In formal English, it is grammatically correct to say:

d. A poor man I knew nursed the orphan.

Unfortunately, this is ambiguous. It could be saying that "I knew the poor man" already, or it could be saying that "I knew he nursed the orphan."

In informal English, most native speakers avoid using the word "whom", even when it would be correct to use the word "whom". I would expect most native speakers to say either (b), (c), or (d):

b. A poor man who I knew nursed the orphan.
c. A poor man that I knew nursed the orphan.

Option (c) is also ambiguous. It could be saying "I knew that poor man" already. It could also be a sentence fragment, with "that" introducing a parenthetical remark. A sentence fragment would be grammatically incorrect in this context. (On the other hand, sentence fragments are common in informal English.)

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