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(1) I called out to the student who was turning around to see me.

(2) I called out to the student, who was turning around to see me

I understand the comma before who makes a difference in the meanings of the two sentences. I also understand that the relative pronoun who can be replaced with the relative pronoun "that" in sentence (1).

But what about the relative pronoun who with a comma? Can it be replaced with the relative pronoun that? I think it cannot be replaced.

Could you help me clarify it? Thank you always.

1

You're correct (in your last suggestion): that may replace the relative who in a restrictive relative clause (without a comma); but it may not do so in a non-restrictive relative clause (with a comma).

2
  • Yes, but there is a preference for "who" when the relativised element is subject, as it is here.
    – BillJ
    Feb 28 '18 at 20:15
  • I wasn't convinced that that was so, @BillJ, but the iWeb corpus seems to bear you out: 187 000 instances of "man who [verb]" against 19 000 of "man that [verb]".
    – Colin Fine
    Jan 18 '19 at 20:06
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In your example, using a comma is good

I called out to the student, who was turning around to see me.

to separate the subordinate clause.

Your alternative sentence

I called out to the student, that was turning around to see me.

would be understood, but "that" is usually used for things whereas "who" / "whom" are used for people.

The picture that hung on the wall...
The cat that sat on the chair...
The boy who watched TV...
The girl whom I kissed...

2
  • This may be a UK/NAm difference, but I have no problem with that for people. Also, you haven't answered the question.
    – Colin Fine
    Feb 28 '18 at 16:39
  • Supplementary (non-defining) that relatives are virtually unheard of, and only marginally acceptable.
    – BillJ
    Feb 28 '18 at 20:19

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