Here is a paragraph I wrote a couple days ago:

So if you are a person who can learn by himself/herself (which is a must-have trait if you are going to be a good programmer) then other tools that you have the control of the learning pace are way more useful than college.

I wonder if the usage of "which" here is correct or not? When a friend read it, he said that "which" must be "who" because I am talking about a person. But for me, the "which" relates to the "ability of being able to learn by yourself"

Maybe I'm thinking in my own language and this is creating a syntactic mistake?

  • 2
    Nope, you're right: the complement of which is a trait, and its referent is an ability, can learn by yourself, neither of which can be taken to be a person. Give yourself a gold star. Apr 12, 2015 at 23:15
  • That was what I was trying to explain to my friend but he is an English teacher so he left me in doubt. Apr 13, 2015 at 2:12
  • 1
    Note that the latter part of the semtence is not quite right. You need ". . .other tools that let you have control. . ." rather than ". . .other tools that you have the control. . ." Apr 13, 2015 at 4:25

1 Answer 1


So if you are a person who can learn by himself/herself, which is a must-have trait if you are going to be a good programmer, then.....

The use of the relative pronoun "which" is correct in the sentence while the use of "who" is incorrect. you are referring to the entire previous clause, not a person, in the non-defining clause.

  • Can you elaborate on the problem about "who" a bit please ? "you are a person" is definetly a clause but it's functioning as the subject so I was tempted to use "who" there. Should it be a "which" ? There is an example on Pullum's book: "That he was guilty was obvious." Pullum says that "That he was guilty" is categorically a clause with its own subject but functionally it is the subject of the clause "___ was obvious". Shall I base my choice of relative pronouns on the function or the category ? Apr 14, 2015 at 2:42

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