by Weston Ochse
Do any of you have the WHODAT Pet Peeve? Do you just hate it when who is used in place of that or which and vice versa? Then grit your teeth and check this out.
The man that ran down the street is my brother.
The car who ran into the man was driven by my sister.
My brother and sister, them which were involved in the accident, died horrifically when their car struck the delivery van containing two dozen dwarf monkeys from Indonesia.
Besides this being a lesson in bad driving, not running down the middle of the street, and never transporting Indonesian dwarf monkeys in delivery vans, these exemplar sentences also provide clear cut examples of a common error in sentence construction. Who vs That (or the WHODAT) choice is commonly mistaken by writers both new and old. I see the mistake repeated on television or at the movies at least once every ten minutes. I read it in newspapers everyday. Today in our classified section there was this: Custom Home Builder Looking for an Entry Level Employee that is familiar with new home construction. Novels are rife with the WHODAT error as well, sometimes to distraction. In fact some of our most famous novelists have broken the sanctity of the WHODAT Covenant in the titles.
The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg by Mark Twain
The Man that was Used Up by Edgar Allan Poe
So here’s the rule as explained succinctly by Vo-cab Vitamins:
Rule 1. Who refers to people. That and which refer to groups or things.
Examples Glen is the one who rescued the bird.
She belongs to an organization that specializes in saving endangered species.
Rule 2. That introduces essential clauses while which introduces nonessential clauses.
Examples I do not like editorials that argue for racial differences in intelligence.
We would not know which editorials were being discussed without the that clause.
The editorial arguing for racial differences in intelligence, which appeared in the Sunday newspaper, upset me.
The editorial is already identified. Therefore, which begins a nonessential clause.
NOTE: Essential clauses do not have commas surrounding them while nonessential clauses do contain commas.
Rule 3. If that has already been used in the sentence, use which to introduce the essential clause that follows.
Example That is a decision which you must live with for the rest of your life.
Rule 4. If the essential clause starts with this, that, these, or those, use which to connect.
Example Those ideas which were discussed on Tuesday will be put in the minutes of the meeting.
Even better The ideas discussed on Tuesday will be . . .
So the way the exemplar sentences should read are:
The man who ran down the street is my brother.
The car that ran into the man was driven by my sister.
My brother and sister, who were involved in the accident, died horrifically when their car struck the delivery van containing two dozen dwarf monkeys from Indonesia.
So free yourself from the WHODAT Conundrum, go forth and multiply like Indonesian dwarf monkeys and spread the word.