That vs. Who or Whom

'Who', 'whom', and 'that' are all relative pronouns. Two of them are used as a subject and one of them is the object. If you want to which is which, read this!

"That" vs. "Who" or "Whom" in the English Grammar

What Do They Have in Common?

These three are all 'Relative Pronouns' that introduce relative clauses.
A relative clause is a kind of dependent clause. It has a subject and a verb, but the meaning is not complete, and it cannot be a whole sentence.

Common Relative Pronouns

The most common relative pronouns in English are:

  1. who
  2. whom
  3. whose
  4. which
  5. that

But Are They Interchangeable?

Depending on the type of relative clause, each one of them has its own uses. But as you will see later in this article, they can be interchangeable in some cases, and not in some. Here, we will focus on three relative pronouns: 'who', 'whom', and 'that'.

Who

'Who' is a relative pronoun used as a subject to refer to people. 'That' is a relative pronoun used as a subject and object for things or groups. When used as an object, 'who' becomes 'whom.'

The man who called today wanted to speak to Tory.

Jeremy, who likes ice cream, invited all his friends to an ice cream bar.

Whom

Whom is a relative pronoun that is used as the object of a relative clause.

The author whom you criticized in your review has written a reply.

Macy's mom whom we met yesterday, was a fantastic cook.

Whom Is Not Very Common

The use of 'whom' is not very common in spoken English. Normally, people use 'who' both as subject and object pronouns of relative clauses.

Who did you invite to the party? (Instead of the more formal 'Whom did you invite to the party?')

Whom Is Very Formal

It is also considered very formal to use 'whom' after prepositions (as the object of prepositions):

To whom should I send this box?

In everyday English, it is more natural to use 'who' instead of 'whom' at the beginning of a question, then put the preposition at the end of the sentence.

Who should I send this box to?

In Essential Relative Clauses, Are They Interchangeable?

In essential relative clauses, you can either use 'who' or 'that' or 'whom', or leave out the pronoun completely.

The people (who/‌that/‌whom) I met at the party were friendly.

In Non-Essential Relative Clauses, Are They Interchangeable?

In non-essential relative clauses, you can use 'who' or 'whom', but you cannot use 'that'. Also you cannot leave out the pronoun.

My son, who/‌whom you've met yesterday, is a college student.

That

The relative pronoun 'that' is very flexible, and you can use it for people or things. Both these sentences are correct:

I like girls who are pretty.

I like girls that are pretty.

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