I was doing a composition and I had to use the relative pronoun in the following sentences.

1- The man _________ you spoke to is deaf.

2- I gave it to the man ________ I saw there.

Answer of the first sentence was whom/that and that of second sentence was only whom. To me both of the sentences look the same then why that is not used in the second sentence?

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    It's hard to say why whoever made the answer key chose those options: in either sentence, an English speaker might use "who", "whom", "that" or no relative word.
    – sumelic
    Commented Jan 7, 2019 at 3:40
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    If anybody distinguishes between the two, it's often to use who(m) for people and that for objects. There is no difference in use between the example sentences in the question. If you can use one in one of the sentences, you can use the same one in the other sentence. Commented Jan 7, 2019 at 4:26
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    It's worth pointing out that the word 'whom', while technically correct in a lot of cases, is considered archaic and fussy, and is hardly ever used in any context by native English speakers. Commented Jan 8, 2019 at 22:21

1 Answer 1


It seems to me that the choice of relative pronoun in the second sentence hinges on a fine balance that tells us better not to use relative pronoun THAT in subject position in a non defining or non restrictive relative clause

A restrictive clause is an essential part of its sentence; if it were taken out of the sentence, the sentence’s meaning would change. Nonrestrictive clauses are just the opposite. Moreover, some people are squeamish to replace WHO with THAT when referring to people. Grammarly.com endorses the opinion.

https://www.google.com/url?q=https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar/relative-pronouns-and-relative-clauses&sa tells us not to use THAT in such situations. In spoken English the usage is quite right but in written English, perhaps, not.

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