The correct grammatical use of the word... "who"...?

Discussion in 'Off-Topic Chat' started by TheMusicMan, Sep 14, 2007.

  1. TheMusicMan

    TheMusicMan tMP Founder Staff Member

    Strange question I appreciate, but is the correct use of the word 'who' only in relation to a person or human or other living thing?

    So for example...

    ..."usually does wonderful things, but who sometimes makes mistakes"

    Does this imply the 'who' is actually a person or living thing such as a pet...? or could it still be grammatically correct if it were to relate to something else ?
  2. WoodenFlugel

    WoodenFlugel Moderator Staff Member


    So it's not a living thing then? [confused]If it's not living then how can it be prone to "mistakes"? As far as I can think just now, mistakes are a human trait - animals are driven by instinct and processes (such as computers, machines etc) only fail due to poor design, or lack of maintenance. [/confused]

    I suspect I'm getting the wrong end of the stick about the context you are using though John...:)
  3. BigHorn

    BigHorn Active Member

    I think it does apply to living beings. In your example the word 'who' would be replaced by 'which' if it was an in-animate thing, a process, a computer program etc.
    However I think it has to be a higher being - the sentence would not work if it was about a plant , a beetle or a worm but would if it was something with a personality.
  4. David Mann

    David Mann Member

    According to Michael Swan's "Practical English Usage" we are talking about relative clauses and pronouns.


    Have you ever spoken to the people who live next door?
    There's a programme on tonight which you might like.
    Here's the book that you were looking for.

    Who refers to people.
    Which refers to things.
    That can refer to both people and things.
  5. Will the Sec

    Will the Sec Active Member

    In the cited example, why use the word "who" anyway? It adds nothing to the meaning.
  6. tpcornet12

    tpcornet12 Member

    Granted is was written by GP but wikipedia defines as....

    "The pronoun who, in the English language, is the interrogative and relative pronoun that is used to refer to human beings and some animals perceived as sentient."
  7. johnmartin

    johnmartin Active Member

    WHO cares? :)
  8. ronnie_the_lizard

    ronnie_the_lizard Active Member

    Could just about fit 'world health organisation' into the phrase supplied (though I doubt it fits the context), along with buddha/allah/god/odin depending on whether you class one / all of these entities as 'persons or living things'.

    I guess a 'named' inanimate object given an identity, such as a doll, a teddy bear or a computer with Artificial Intelligence might also justify (probably technically incorrect) use of 'who' in certain circumstances (in the same way that animals can be).
  9. MissRepiano

    MissRepiano New Member

    Who refers to people.
    Which refers to things.
    That can refer to both people and things.[/quote]

    I always get confused bewteen who and whom, what's the deal with that?
  10. TheMusicMan

    TheMusicMan tMP Founder Staff Member

    Apologies for not getting back to this thread sooner, but I have just had an enjoyable 40 mins watching SA actually play rugby... :)

    The context of the use of that word was that I made a post on another forum thus...

    ... and I was pulled up by someone criticising me for using the word 'who' in that context by commenting...

    ... "Interesting. Using 'who' on a robot. Getting close to Asimov's world, aren't we? [​IMG]"

    So, was he right to do this based on context I used...?
  11. David Mann

    David Mann Member

    Whom is more formal than who but means the same thing (... the woman who / whom I marry...) , and is also used after prepositions such as "with", eg

    ...the people with whom he worked

    not ... with who he worked.

    (Michael Swan - Practical English Usage)
  12. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    - I think he was meaning you were attributing human traits to something that isn't! (based on Asimov's Robots and the evolution of artificial intelligence).
  13. WoodenFlugel

    WoodenFlugel Moderator Staff Member

    Grrrr :ranting2:

    Mind you, I can't argue with the result - once again we re-defined the terms "clueless" and "pedestrian" :mad:

    I guess he doesn't mean anything by it (hence the winky smillie) but, strictly speaking he's correct - ASIMOV, for all it's human traits is still a machine eg: you wouldn't apply the same wording to your car "who wouldn't start today".

    So, I suppose he was right, but you could quite easily accuse him of being a massive pedant! (unless you were posting on an English grammar forum!)

    Great vids BTW - its a shame Honda can't apply the same level of engineering thinking to their F1 cars...
  14. MissRepiano

    MissRepiano New Member

    cool, thanks thats been bugging me for years!
  15. David Mann

    David Mann Member

    My mate from Oxford would!:wink:
  16. Cornet Nev.

    Cornet Nev. Member

    The word whom can also be used in the past tense in order to signify that fact. as in "with whom he worked" it wouldn't even sound right if it was "with whom he works."
  17. tedmundo

    tedmundo Member

    As I recall, Fowler (Modern English Usage) distinguishes among relative "that" and "who" on the lines of...

    that: subject of a relative clause that defines or restricts what immediately precedes, e.g.
    "The man that wore a hat ran away" (There were other men but only the one in a hat ran away. This usage does not permit commas, cf below under 'who').
    Can also stand as the direct object, e.g. "The man that was threatened ran
    away", but not as indirect object - not "The person to that I award the prize..."
    ('to that' should be 'to whom').

    who: subject of a relative clause that describes what immediately precedes the clause.
    e.g. "The man who wore a hat ran away" (there was only one man). This usage
    is often reinforced by commas ("The man, who wore a hat, ran away"). Other
    cases (direct/indirect objects, possessive) require 'whom', 'for whom', 'whose'

    'which' stands as the subject of a relative clause that it introduces, replacing 'who',
    'whom', 'whose' when standing for an inanimate thing.
  18. Well Worth It

    Well Worth It Active Member

    ...and for budding etymologists....they used to be spelt hwo, hwom and hwat.

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