Monday, September 12, 2005

Calling Grammar Experts

A friend and I got into a dispute over a particular word usage in something we're writing. He feels he's right. I feel I'm right, but I can't find a reference in the Good Writing and Grammar book that I use. I've googled with every combination of words and can't find an online reference, either. If you can find a link to show which usage is correct, I would appreciate it.

The sentence refers to a dry cleaner named Jack. The word controversy is in bold.

And she had no intentions of losing the only dry cleaner that/who seemed to know what he was doing

I say 'who'. He says 'that' is correct. I say 'who' because the modifying phrase refers to a man/person. He says 'that' because it sounds correct to his ear (a method I often use, myself).

I need either a link (preferably) or an explicit explanation. I'm a real stickler on grammar and, at this point, want to know out of curiosity if I'm wrong.


NOTE***I wrote a childhood friend who teaches Creative Writing at the U. of Colorado and has his Ph.D. in English. I figured he would know, if anybody did:-) I just got this reply.

This is the kind of answer I LOVE to give: both of you are right.

Check out the following link:

In general, "who" is preferable when referring to a person or to people; but "that" is also considered correct. Personally, I would use "who" in the sentence that you quoted: not only is it more personable and human: it also works better with the sound of the rest of the sentence: the "oooo" sounds in "losing," "to,"and "doing," plus the aspirants at the beginning of "had," "what" and "he."

I did a google of "that / who"--typed just that way--and it turned up several links. I cited the second one above. If you want to go deeper, just google "that / who."


keros said...

Pris-Here's my take: use "that" if you are refering to dry cleaners as an establishment, "who" if you are refering to dry cleaner as in the person that does the work.

Pris said...

Hi K
That's my take, too. We're definitely referring to the person, since earlier we mention that 'Jack's' father, who still runs the place' is incompetent. Ergo...the place isn't competent but just the one person out of two.

Wish you had a link. My friend is from Missouri and you know the saying there..'show me':-)

jimfow said...

Pris, I believe "that" is correct.

And she had no intentions of losing the only dry cleaner,that seemed to know what he was doing.

is a adjective clause that modifies cleaner and answers the question "Which one?" Generally, "that" separates one thing from a larger class of those things, in this case, a specific cleaner(only) from the universe of all other cleaners.

"A writer's Reference" Diana Hacker,1989, pg 205



Pris said...

how I hate to be proved wrong on grammar issues:-)

thanks, Jim. I knew it was an adjective clause, but thought since it modified a name, the who would be correct. I would guess if the man was named, who would then be correct? I'll look at your link now.

Pris said...

WHERE on that page of a zillion links did you find this??

chella said...

pris's right--who is correct and refers to the person. c

Pris said...

Hi Chella
Our solution finally was to rephrase the sentence in a way that satisfied both of us. :-)

Steven Moore said...

Hi Pris

This from my Oxford Dictionary of English (the new large single volume edition):

It is sometimes argued that, in relative clauses, that should be used for non-human references, while who should be used for human references: a house that overlooks the park but the woman who lives next door. In practice, whilst it is true to say that who is retricted to human references, the function of that is flexible. It has been used for human and non-human references since at least the 11th century. In standard English it is interchangeable with who in this context.


Pris said...

Hi Steven
Yes, you agree with my friend on this. I love grammar discussions, having been raised by two educators. I don't think most people have yet gotten such things as the lie/lay, it's/its, you're/your,who's/whose problems--or esp the I/me issue.

Lorna Dee Cervantes said...

Hi Pris, who's your friend? I'm at CU-Boulder.