Tuesday, October 10, 2023


"That" or "Who"? Demystifying Relative Pronouns in English Writing

In the vast terrain of English grammar, the distinction between "that" and "who" often becomes a point of contention. Both words can introduce relative clauses, yet they serve distinct functions and their use depends on the context. To navigate the complexities and utilize these pronouns correctly, let's break down their usage and rules.

The Distinct Roles

  1. "Who" is used to refer to people. It introduces a clause that provides additional information about a person or group of people.

  2. In this case, "who" provides specific information about the artist. The sentence implies that there might be several artists, but we are speaking about the one who painted the masterpiece in question.

  3. Example: The artist who painted this masterpiece is renowned worldwide.

  4. "That", while versatile, can also refer to people, especially in informal language. However, when the need for clarity arises, or in formal writing, it's safer to reserve "that" for things or animals and use "who" for people.

  5. Here, "that" introduces essential information about the cats in question, distinguishing them from perhaps other cats that do not roam the neighborhood.

  6. Example: The cats that roam our neighborhood are feral.

Points to Consider

  1. Formality & Clarity: In more formal contexts, it's always better to use "who" when referring to people. It not only sounds more polished but also ensures clarity in your writing.

  2. Restrictive vs. Non-restrictive Clauses: Both "that" and "who" can introduce restrictive clauses (those essential to the sentence). However, only "who" (and whom, its object form) is used to introduce non-restrictive clauses (extra information) for people, often separated by commas.

  3. The information "who is a pianist" is extra, and removing it won't change the main point that my brother will perform tonight.

  4. Example: My brother, who is a pianist, will perform tonight.

  5. Exercise to Distinguish "That" and "Who"

Fill in the blanks with either "that" or "who" based on the context:

  1. The girl ___ sings beautifully is my cousin.
  2. The car ___ is parked outside is brand new.
  3. The man ___ invented the telephone was Alexander Graham Bell.
  4. The flowers ___ bloom in spring are my favorite.
  5. The athletes ___ competed in the Olympics trained for years.
  6. The restaurant ___ serves Italian cuisine is around the corner.
  7. The children ___ play in the park are very friendly.
  8. The movies ___ were released last summer were blockbusters.
  9. The author ___ wrote that bestselling book is giving a talk tonight.
  10. The planets ___ orbit the sun are part of our solar system.
  11. The teacher ___ helps me with math is very patient.
  12. The islands ___ are located to the south are tourist hotspots.
  13. The woman ___ you met at the party is my aunt.
  14. The gadgets ___ are on display look futuristic.
  15. The boy ___ rides that bike is in my class.
  16. The shops ___ offer discounts are crowded.
  17. The singer ___ has a mesmerizing voice is touring the country.
  18. The dishes ___ are made of clay are very delicate.
  19. The volunteers ___ assist at the event are from various organizations.
  20. The mountains ___ are covered in snow are majestic.
  21. The professor ___ teaches philosophy has written several books.
  22. The games ___ are popular among kids are educational.
  23. The poet ___ penned those verses is highly acclaimed.
  24. The fruits ___ grow in tropical climates are delicious.
  25. The actress ___ starred in that movie has won several awards.


  1. 1. who, 2. that, 3. who, 4. that, 5. who, 6. that, 7. who, 8. that, 9. who, 10. that, 11. who, 12. that, 13. who, 14. that, 15. who, 16. that, 17. who, 18. that, 19. who, 20. that, 21. who, 22. that, 23. who, 24. that, 25. who.


The distinction between "that" and "who" can initially seem perplexing. However, by focusing on their specific roles—reserving "who" primarily for people and "that" for things or animals—you'll find that crafting clear, grammatically sound sentences becomes simpler. Always remember, practice is the cornerstone of perfection. Regularly testing yourself, like with the exercise above, can help solidify your understanding.