Who, Which, That
Where to use Who, Which and That
Once again, these fairly straightforward terms are often misapplied. Stated simply, however, 'who' applies to people, 'which' applies to things and 'that' can be used for either. You probably apply these terms correctly fairly naturally but the following examples might help ensure that you use the right word on the right occasion.
- Who would make a good prime minister? (person)
- Which table do you prefer? (thing)
- He mistook his wife for that woman over there. (person)
- That is a very pretty picture. (thing)
It is very important, however, to use the personal 'who', rather than 'that' or 'which’, if by using another form you will give the wrong impression. For example:
What kind of dress would suit that?
Clearly, this would be read as insulting, even without the italics, so unless that is the impression you wish to give, avoid this usage!
Many people think that it is preferable to use 'which' instead of 'that' when writing good Standard English but this is incorrect and in fact neither one is preferable to the other.
When writing an academic essay, you need to adhere strictly to grammatical structure at all times. However, as has been shown above, incorrect usage can have a very dramatic and/or interesting effect so if you are writing a creative essay, particularly fiction, it is quite innovative to experiment with different effects.
Notwithstanding, it would be very unwise to use anything other than the correct grammatical form to achieve the highest grades so stick to the rules when writing a formal academic essay.
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