The others figure it was Rocket that took them, and they're all pissed off.


I always say, they took my pen or they took my umbrella.

but here that sounds like: non living being came to life and took something.

  • There does exist a more human-friendly relative pronoun. However, the choice wouldn't be between "that" and "they". It would be between "that" and "who" or "whom", as in: "The others figure it was Rocket who took them". As to why this author chose "that" instead of "who" for this sentence, we have no way of knowing. Rocket is a fictional non-human person. The usual real-life categories are hard to apply here: was he the person who did it, or was it the creature that did it? Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 15:58
  • Also note that specifically when used as a relative pronoun, that is not offensive when applied to a person. You'll commonly hear things like It was Bob that solved the problem, and it's not at all offensive to use that and not who. However, there are other pronoun uses of that where it would be highly offensive to apply to a person - for example, How can you like that? would be fine if you're referencing a thing but extremely offensive if referencing a person, it would basically mean you don't even consider them a human being.
    – PMV
    Commented Aug 11, 2017 at 0:12

2 Answers 2


Because 'that' is a relative pronoun in this context, and relative pronouns can connect phrases or clauses to a noun or pronoun. 'They' is a regular pronoun (in the form of the subject of the sentence), and regular pronouns cannot connect phrases or clauses to a noun or pronoun. 'Who' and 'which' can be similar to 'that' in this context.

Examples using relative pronouns:

  • The store that was all out of candy had plenty of cabbage for sale.
  • We like Anthea and Charlie, who saved us from the sharks.

The same examples using regular pronouns (this is also correct):

  • There was a store; it was all out of candy, but it had plenty of cabbage for sale.
  • We like Anthea and Charlie. They saved us from the sharks.

Here are examples of what you should not write:

  • The store it was all out of candy had plenty of cabbage for sale. (This will look totally wrong to native speakers and they may not know what you mean, depending.)
  • We like Anthea and Charlie they saved us from the sharks. (This should be two sentences or have something to connect them.)

Now, it should be noted that some native speakers neglect to properly connect elements of sentences how they should in informal, written language (but that doesn't mean they're doing what is correct). You might see this a lot in text messages.


It's an emphatic sentence: "It is/was... that.... " "That" is a relative pronoun.

In this context, it emphasizes the subject "Rocket", "Rocket took them".

Here is another example: "It is Mrs. White that makes the decision in her family." Here emphasizes Mrs. White (not anyone else makes the decision).

Hope this help.

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