Posted by Neal on December 20, 2008
Gabe Doyle at Motivated Grammar takes on the issue of who(m) vs. that to introduce relative clauses describing a human (or at least animate) being. He has gathered data, and found that both are used, and that there’s a clear preference on when to use which word. (Hat tip: Craig Lancaster’s Watch Yer Language.)
Back in November, James Kilpatrick published another poorly thought-out proclamation: that which “rarely accomplishes anything not already well-served by that.” So now it’s not enough to use which only in nonrestrictive relative clauses describing nonhuman things; we’re supposed to avoid it altogether? Well, not altogether: Kilpatrick hedges with the word rarely. Mike Geis (the Language Guy) points out four cases where which cannot be replaced by that, and that’s without even mentioning which as the object of a preposition, as in the destination to which we were headed. Actually, the which in this one could be replaced by that, but not without changing the syntax a bit as well: the destination that we were headed to. I wonder which version Kilpatrick prefers?