explorer <who/that> discovered

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JJJenifer

Senior Member
Taiwan/Chinese
Hi, everyone,

I read a sentence below:
"Christopher Columbus is famous as the explorer that discoveered America". (p. 97 All aboards 5)

Can I change "that" to "who" and rewrite the sentence like
"Christopher Columbus is famous as the explorer who discoveered America"." ?

Thank you in advance.
 
  • JJJenifer

    Senior Member
    Taiwan/Chinese
    Thank you, Copyright!

    And.. are there any differences between the "that" sentence and the "who" sentence?
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English - Northeast US
    If only one person ever did a certain thing, then "he is the one who did it" and "he is the one that did it" mean the same.

    What about more common things. I'll try an example:

    "I am an explorer THAT rides bikes, drinks coffee, and sleeps late."
    "I am an explorer WHO rides bikes, drinks coffee, and sleeps late."

    I can't find any difference. That seems odd, since they are different words.
     

    Parla

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    I'm one of those people who believe in using "who" rather than "that" when referring to human beings. I think the "that" in the original sentence should be changed to "who".
     
    Grammar girl agrees with you. Some exceptions, back to Chaucer, noted.


    Who Versus That

    The quick and dirty answer is that you use who when you are talking about a person and that when you are talking about an object. Stick with that rule and you'll be safe.

    That as a Pronoun

    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]


    Wow. So I dug around some more and found that there is a long history of writers using that as a relative pronoun when writing about people. Chaucer did it, for example (4).



    Two exceptions are cited at this website:

    Who vs That

    However, you can use “that” on occasion for the singular person. A writer might do this when referring to someone they don’t know personally or have a name for. For example:

    The guy that came to fix my water pipes last year said the pipes were very worn.

    Using “Who” and “That” In The Plural: In the plural, we can use “that” or “Who”. For example,

    Men that act in this way are quite despicable.// Men who act in this way are quite despicable.




    I'm one of those people who believe in using "who" rather than "that" when referring to human beings. I think the "that" in the original sentence should be changed to "who".
     
    Last edited:

    MirandaEscobedo

    Senior Member
    British English
    I agree that it has become a matter of taste. I am totally with Parla on this one.

    On a separate matter
    Can I change "that" to "who" and rewrite the sentence like
    "Christopher Columbus is famous as the explorer who discoveered America"." ?
    Seemingly you want to rewrite the sentence AS "Christopher Columbus is famous as the explorer who discovered America" and not merely something LIKE this.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    I really can't see any reason to object to the use of "that" as the default relative pronoun. As the OED entry puts it:

    The general relative pronoun, referring to any antecedent, and used without inflexion irrespective of gender, number, and case.

    1.
    a. Introducing a clause defining or restricting the antecedent, and thus completing its sense. (The ordinary use: referring to persons or things.)
    Sometimes replaceable by who (of persons) or which (of things), but properly only in cases where no ambiguity results: cf. 2 ...
    ...
    2. Introducing a clause stating something additional about the antecedent (the sense of the principal clause being complete without the relative clause). Now only poet. or rhet., the ordinary equivalents being who (obj. whom) of persons, and which of things.
    But the relative clause is often merely descriptive, stating an attribute of the antecedent; or it may give the reason or a reason of the main statement, and thus be closely connected with it; the use in these cases approaches that in sense 1. There are thus many cases in which modern use allows either that or who, which, and in which poets prefer that.
    The OP's sentence falls under 1, a defining relative clause, so "that" would appear to be the normal use, and "who" a secondary option which is used "sometimes".

    benny, your Grammar Girl link is corrupt, so I haven't seen what she says.The British Council takes a different approach from the OED in saying
    With defining relative clauses we can use who or that to talk about people. There is no difference in meaning between these, though 'who' tends to be preferred in more formal use.
    We can use that or which to talk about things. Again, there is no difference in meaning between these, though 'which' tends to be preferred in more formal use.
    I'd never thought of "who" and "which" as having a more formal register. The difference, of course, is that the OED reports what has been done and the British Council advises on what its authors think should be done.
     
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