Grammar Tip – That Versus Who

Ron’s question: “I often hear (or read) ‘that’ used in place of the pronoun ‘who.’ To my ears, it doesn’t sound correct. For example, ‘I’m always shocked by professionals that use improper grammar,’ versus ‘I’m always shocked by professionals who use improper grammar.’ ”

BizWritingTip response: I agree with you. I was taught years ago that who is used for people and that for things. But guess what? Times have changed. Now both who and that are used when referring to persons. Use who when you are referring to specific people and that when referring to a category or type of person.

He is a manager who treats his employees well. (specific person)
He is the type of consultant that I would hire again. (category)*
She is the one who should be going. (specific)
Of all the people that should attend, I decided to send her. (category)
I am shocked by professionals that use improper grammar. (category)
I am shocked by a professional who uses improper grammar. (specific person)

*Yes, you could remove the word that from this sentence. Grammatically, that is the correct word to use. In the interest of brevity, you could – correctly – remove it: He is the type of consultant I would hire again.