We look at the kids which/that/who skillfully use tablets with the help of their small fingers and we understand that to surprise the younger generation will be more difficult each year.

Is the relative pronoun which acceptable here, or does it look totally out of place, because it befits a "non-restrictive relative clause" more?

It seems to me that the pronoun that looks best in the bolded position, with who an acceptable second choice. But it's hard to pin down why.

  • 6
    Which cannot be used for people. – Lucian Sava Nov 28 '14 at 11:15
  • 2
    I would guess 'that' only seems attractive because it's probably been mis-used that way a lot, but it makes me squirm a bit - NGRAM – gone fishin' again. Nov 28 '14 at 11:30
  • 1
    it would feel best, yes. Better NGRAM btw, which shows equal usage way back when, diminishing over the years, but with a sudden climb very recently (coinciding with the rise of the internet & the sudden freedom for the great untrained to contribute to the corpus;) – gone fishin' again. Nov 28 '14 at 11:32
  • 2
    I mentioned this squirmy thing once before here in a different context; here it is apropos: I once received a letter from an applicant for a job in which he gave this reason for wanting a job in our city: to be "close to his girlfriend, which lives in New Jersey". Many people who dozed in English class in high school think "which" is the formal and correct way to refer to everything. One hears "which" misused this way on American local TV news broadcasts fairly often. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Nov 28 '14 at 13:46
  • 1
    @TRomano: I'd be surprised if many native speakers needed to be taught in school that which is virtually never used of people. Maybe they'd have been explicitly taught (often wrongly) where to use that and who, but I'm sure most of them would already have a firm grasp of the point made by Lucian above, long before they even went to school. – FumbleFingers Nov 28 '14 at 15:12

It's that over who because which in this context is out.

Both are okay, BUT if you want to give more human touch, let's call those cute little kids who.

GrammarGirl agrees!

To me, using that when you are talking about a person makes them seem less than human. I always think of my friend who would only refer to his new stepmother as the woman that married my father. He was clearly trying to indicate his animosity and you wouldn't want to do that accidentally.

  • 1
    The person that is used so often in speech that it is second nature. In writing, I would probably use who unless mimicking speech. And for what it's worth, that Grammar Girl site is rubbish, I never use it. @CopperKettle – user6951 Nov 28 '14 at 15:39
  • @CarSmack you say grammar girl is rubbish, another native says grammar-monster is rubbish. The experts say Indian newspapers are hopeless. Day by day, such comments are endangering my learning sources. :) – Maulik V Nov 28 '14 at 16:15
  • People use that this way all the time in writing, so user6951's preferences don't reflect those of the English writing population as a whole. – user230 Mar 24 '16 at 11:25

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.