Who vs. That

'Who' and 'that' are used a lot as relative pronouns. They are a little bit different in some cases.

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

What Are Their Main Differences?

'Who' is a pronoun that refers only to people or a person. while 'that' refers to people, things, groups of people, etc. Whenever we are trying to talk about a person it is preferred to use 'who' not 'that'.


What They Refer to

  • 'Who' and 'that':

'Who' is used to talk about a person or people. 'That' is used to talk about things people, etc.

Who has the keys?

Who is your favorite singer?

This is the opportunity that I was looking for a lot.

He was the boy that won the game.

Who and That as Interrogative Pronouns

  • 'Who' and 'that':

'Who' is used as an interrogative pronoun to ask questions but 'that' cannot be used as an interrogative pronoun. So we cannot put it at the beginning of a question.

Who is the tall girl? (Not "That is the tall girl?")

Who cooked dinner last night? (NOT That cooked dinner last night?)

Restrictive and Non-restrictive Clauses

Restrictive clauses Non-restrictive clauses
That ×

Who and That in Indirect Speech

  • 'Who' and 'that':

Remember we can use 'who' in indirect speech, but 'that' is not used in indirect speech to get information about a person or people. Keep in mind that this does not mean that we __cannot_ use 'that in an indirect speech at all. We can use 'that' when we are not writing an indirect speech in question form.

I wanted to know, who invented the telephone. (Not "I wanted to know, that invented the telephone.")

He confirmed, the man was the one that / who killed the innocent girl.


'Who' and 'That' as Relative Pronouns

  • 'Who' and 'that':

both are used as relative pronouns to connect two clauses. As you know who refers to 'people' and that refers to both 'people' and 'things'.

The book that I bought for Marco turned out a total shame.

The doctor who cured me has unfortunately passed away.

Ansel, who is a dentist, is going to the big party of ours.

Bella that is the bride is too beautiful.

When Referring to a Group

When the speaker is talking about a group of people it is their choice to think of them as individuals or a whole group. So in this case using 'who' and 'that' would be both correct.

The staff that were laid off, found jobs at the rival company. → all the people

The staff who was laid off, found a job at the rival company. → individual


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