Writing Pet Peeves #3: Who/That

I’m already pulling my hair out just thinking about this. Why? Because all hope is lost in this case. Seriously. Hopefully you at least know what I’m referring to without me even being specific just yet. Who/that has got to be right up there with the most common mistake people make in speech or writing. EVERYONE says/writes it incorrectly over and over and over every single day. Let me tell you what I’m talking about.


“Chad is the one that plays baseball.”


“Chad is the one WHO plays baseball.”

How hard is that to understand?! You cannot refer to Chad as “that.” But if you watch your local evening news, they will. If you watch your favorite TV show, they will. If you watch ESPN, they will. If you’re in casual conversation with your friend, you will. Happens way too much to ever change.

The funny thing is that a few years ago I was the same. I’d make the same mistake dozens of times a day. Guess what happened? I did it in a technical paper like three times. The professor first explained the error. And proceeded to question if I had any idea what he was talking about when he corrected me. It was an online class. But I did. And now I experience the same feeling he did when he came across the same error over and over again in my paper.

I’m not even going to ask if you misuse these two words…because you almost certainly do.

30 thoughts on “Writing Pet Peeves #3: Who/That

  1. Funny. This morning I wrote and posted a work of flash fiction. During my quick edit I thought I used the word “that” too many times in a particular paragraph. I noticed two of them should have been “who”. I thought to myself, “How could I make such a stupid mistake?” yet I had a sinking feeling because I knew I do it all of the time. Less than an hour later I read your post. I guess the universe is trying to tell me something.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I used to think “who” was always to be used when referring to a person, but I found that there is more than one influence on this point of grammar. I found a site online that articulates the fuzziness on the subject of who or that:

    But, of course, it is also more complicated than that. The who-goes-with-people rule is the conventional wisdom (1,2), but, on the other hand, I did find a credible reference that says otherwise. I was shocked to see that my American Heritage Dictionary says,

    It is entirely acceptable to write either the man that wanted to talk to you, or the man who wanted to talk to you (3). [emphasis added]


    Perhaps your professor didn’t know about this exception to our many rules. We must be patient with writers. Grammar is a pain in the behind to all of us, but we try… Just sayin’…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well how I know it is that “that” can refer to a type of person, but not an individual. And I’d think the professor would know something like that. He taught writing. Anyway, I’m still never referring to a person as “that.”

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I know I’m not concious of this in my speech, but I’m pretty aware of it in my writing. I did know that it’s not so back and white, so I try and keep an ear out for it. If I’m not 100% sure if it should be ‘who’ or ‘that’, I’ll go with whatever sounds best when read aloud.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My professor’s in J school taught my class in first year the word that can almost always be avoided in the first place. It’s really just a filler word.


  5. I have a terrible habit of correcting people when they speak. I don’t always act on my impulses to jut in and correct, but it does drive me nuts. Especially when it sounds unnatural to the person…
    I could only imagine what they write like.


      • I am a fan of wordpress because I feel like it is an option for young and budding writers and artists of various forms to express themselves in their own form. Of course not everyone is going to be “book writing material” when they jump on the internet and find a free site to display their work. I am not trying to rain on your parade here, but I think it’s a little harsh to say that there is a lot of bad writing on wordpress. A lot of people don’t get published every day because there work simply isn’t in the buying market to “make money” for publishers, let alone make someone else pleased with what they wrote. Although, I do agree that there are improvments people can make within their writing which is all a learning process, but I just don’t agree with you saying that there is a lot of bad writing on here.

        Maybe people could use some help instead of hindrance.



  6. I am aware of the misuse of who/that. However, I may be guilty of using it in my speech. I don’t think so, though, really. My pet peeve is the misuse of pronouns. When I hear or read something like, “That was such a shock to Mr. Smith and I,” or “Can you please call Mary and I when the results are in?”, I just cringe.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. “That” instead of “who” is one of my biggest writing pet peeves and one I go out of my way to make sure I write/say it properly. People are not “thats. We are “whos.” Just remember all the whos down in Whoville. 🙂


    Liked by 1 person

  8. I love this. I am particularly irked when I see the words “your welcome”. My goodness, some people never learn the simple use of you’re and your, lose and loose, it’s and its….the list goes on 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I have to admit that I do this every now and then, despite knowing it’s incorrect. Either I’m too lazy to correct it, or I think that it actually sounds or reads better. Mostly I’m just too lazy, though.


  10. Yeah, once again… I only find this acceptable if it’s written in dialogue as everyone has certain quirks and verbal idiosyncrasies… or just simply don’t notice what it is they’re saying when they say it. I find it important to have some distinction added to the voice of each character to make them… well.. actually different from one another. The act of polishing speech for EVERY SINGLE CHARACTER is utterly ludicrous since no one actually speaks that way. When I read books where everyone’s speech is so perfect – no stuttering, no “um” or “uh” or “huh” or “well,” no pauses or break-ups in speech? It just seems so very scripted and forced, like it has no substance at all.

    However, if I see it in the narration and it’s NOT stream-of-consciousness or first person writing? I literally blow a gasket and take out the red pen! XD


  11. I love how you express your pet peeves! I have those same pet peeves. Ugggg…why do people not know these things? One of my pet peeves…the one that drives me absolutely bonkers, is when authors use totally incorrect English in Facebook posts and they call themselves writers?! Don’t they see that others are reading it and saying (like I am), “And why would I want to read your book?” Uggg…people! Don’t even get me started. How about there, they’re, and their? And who’s, whose…and oh so many!!! 😀


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