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This question already has an answer here:

Notice the italicized part of the following text:

In essence, when a retailer decides to build a larger store, it bets that it can use that extra square footage and expanded inventory to attract the higher volume of customers it needs to generate an acceptable return on investment.

If I am to put a relative pronoun between [the higher volume of customers] and [it needs], I surely can put relative pronoun that.

However, I want to know the type of the relative pronoun. Is the noun being modified by the relative clause the volume(a thing) or customers(people)?

Which of the following is acceptable?

  1. ~the higher volume of customers which it needs~
  2. ~the higher volume of customers whom it needs~

marked as duplicate by FumbleFingers, SamBC, Varun Nair, shin, James K Apr 22 at 15:49

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    The referent of the relative pronoun is the higher volume [of customers], so you can't use whom. But it's entirely a stylistic choice whether to use that or which. – FumbleFingers Mar 27 at 14:14
  • @FumbleFingers The phrase alone could be parsed as the higher volume of [customers whom it needs]. Without the rest of the sentence, it would be ambiguous. (But the rest of the sentence does put it in context.) – Jason Bassford Mar 27 at 15:01
  • @JasonBassford: Yeah - strictly speaking the syntax is "ambiguous". For example, including a contextually relevant adjective (the higher volume of Chinese customers whom it needs to establish an overseas customer base) makes whom at least "credible" (if strained) to me. – FumbleFingers Mar 27 at 15:12
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As FumbleFingers points out, whom is not correct because the pronoun in question is referring to the volume, not the customers. Which is acceptable, but I would say that is actually more correct.

The rule of thumb with which vs. that is that if the sentence still makes sense without the clause being connected, you should use which. If not, use that. For example:

[...] it bets that it can use that extra square footage and expanded inventory to attract the higher volume of customers to generate an acceptable return on investment.

This sentence seems to be lacking an actual connection between the "higher volume of customers" and the "acceptable return on investment". Therefore, this version sounds most correct:

[...] it bets that it can use that extra square footage and expanded inventory to attract the higher volume of customers that it needs to generate an acceptable return on investment.

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