Read Today in Tokyo: Standard English –

Who, That And Which ー Relative Pronouns (With More Humanity)

We use other words to replace and refer to nouns where those nouns must be mentioned again in our speech and writing. This prevents redundancy; we don’t want to repeat a noun with the same word or name twice in a sentence. It’s boring and repetitive, non-aesthetic, and unnatural

Things are nouns. People are nouns. Members of other species are nouns. Here are some nouns:

  • book
  • Jane
  • Joseph
  • Spot
  • Frank Smith
  • a nice girl
  • a whale
  • a movie
  • an astronaut
  • an AI
  • the man
  • the lake
  • the pencil

The words that refer to and replace nouns in a sentence are called relative pronouns, because they relate to the original word being referred to and replaced.

Here are some relative pronouns:

  • that
  • which
  • who

Below, the nouns will be in bold type and the relative pronouns referring to and replacing them will be underlined. Look:

A movie that I’ve watched again and again is called 2001: A Space Odyssey. In that film an astronaut who survives a mass murder by an AI, is lost in space.

If we don’t use relative pronouns, our speech is awkward:

Sample Example I – Redundancy (no relative pronouns):

The class book is helpful. The class book is on sale at the campus bookstore. Jane is a nice girl; Jane is in my class. Jane uses the book ー the book I just mentioned.

Sample Example II – Non-Redundancy (with Relative Pronouns):

Class books are helpful. The one that I use is on sale at the campus bookstore. Jane is a nice girl who is in my class. She uses the class book that I just mentioned.

As we can see, the speech employing relative pronouns is more natural and easy to utter.

You might also have noticed that when referring to people, it is better to use ‘who’ instead of ‘that’ for the pronoun referring to them. Here is more about this idea;

Example 1:

The man on the bus who helped me is over there. The transit card that he gave me got me to work on time.

Example 2:

People who use ‘that’ to describe dogs and whales are still abiding by the popular English language and human convention of denying the sentient status and personhood of those intelligent and social creatures who/that possess IQ; so they would say ‘that possess IQ’ and wouldn’t be wrongーnot to most people, anyway.

Example 3:

Most people still use ‘that’, with other species, however:

  • The dog that saved Joseph lives with the Smith family on Schweitzer Avenue in Baltimore.

In fact, many people use ‘that’ when referring to humans:

Example 4:

The man that owns the dog is Frank Smith.

Example 5:

However, I use ‘who’ with humans and members of other species:

  • The dog, ‘Spot’, who saved Joseph, lives on Schweitzer Avenue in Baltimore, with the Smith family. The man who unleashed Spot so he could save Joseph from drowning is Frank Smith.

Example 4
The man who smiles brings smiles to the faces of his neighbors.

Example 5: Things

4. One of the pencils that Da Vinci used is on display at Windsor castle.

5. The lake which Joseph almost drowned in is in Baltimore Park.

Do you now have a better understanding of relative pronouns and when to use them? Will you use who or that when referring to social and intelligent members of other species?

I wrote this lesson to help English as a Second Language students and to show officials who grant visas that I know my language. I hope it helps you, other species and me.


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