Maria Murnane

A former PR executive who abandoned a successful career to pursue a more fulfilling life, Maria Murnane is the best-selling author of the Waverly Bryson series (Perfect on Paper, It's a Waverly...

When to use WHO and when to use THAT

I keep reading (and hearing) authors use the pronoun “that” when they should be using the pronoun “who,” so I thought I’d do a refresher post on the difference between the two.

WHO refers to people:

  • I am the one who is writing this blog post.
  • You are the one who is reading the blog post.

THAT refers to things:

  • The blog post that grabbed my attention the most was the one about pronouns.
  • The topics that seem to be the most popular with my readers are grammar, writing, and book marketing.


1) From an interview about a debut novel:

WHAT HE SAID: “I have two boys that judged me at every turn.”

WHAT HE SHOULD HAVE SAID: “I have two boys who judged me at every turn.”

(Reason: Boys are people, not things.)


2) From an author bio:

WHAT IT SAYS: Lisa’s daughters were the ones that encouraged her to write, saying she should turn the bedtime stories she made up for them into a book.

WHAT IT SHOULD SAY: Lisa’s daughters were the ones who encouraged her to write, saying she should turn the bedtime stories she made up for them into a book.

(Reason: Daughters are people, not things.)


3) From a book description:

WHAT IT SAYS: The story takes place in a dystopian society where teenagers are the ones that rule the land.

WHAT IT SHOULD SAY: The story takes place in a dystopian society where teenagers are the ones who rule the land.

(Reason: Teenagers are people, not things.)


Got it? People: WHO, things: THAT. Now get writing!


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