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Which One: That or Who?

As a fundamental part of speech, pronouns are used throughout writing. Most people use pronouns correctly because they replace nouns; however, relative pronouns cause problems for some writers.


The sentences below illustrate a problematic use of the relative pronouns "that" and "who."


Original Sentence: Surprisingly, a statistically significant difference did not exist between patients THAT reported risky behaviors and patients THAT did not.


Though “that” and “who” function the same as relative pronouns, they refer to distinct types of nouns. “That” refers to non-human nouns (places or things) while “who” refers to human nouns (people).

Since “that” in the original sentence refers to “patients,” which are people, the wrong relative pronoun is used and must be replaced with “who.”


Edited Sentence: Surprisingly, a statistically significant difference did not exist between patients WHO reported risky behaviors and patients WHO did not.


Nouns can refer to a person, place or thing, so when replacing a noun with a pronoun, be sure to use the correct relative pronoun.


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