Wednesday, March 29, 2006

We All Have Grammar Peeves...

At least, those of us who are functionally literate do. I make grammar errors more often than I care to admit, so I'll be the first to say, I'm about to launch into a diatribe when a) I am just as guilty of grammar faux pas as the next person and b) I'll probably make some egregious errors here today. What I won't do is use the word loath in a sentence because I never seem to use it properly and it drives my darling friend, Jane Anne of the Grammar Police, absolutely, freakin' mad. Having said all that, here's my grammar peeve: People who use 'that' when they really mean 'who.'

Have you noticed this lately? Is it a result of some change in style or grammar over at The New Yorker--the bastion of all grammar tradition and trends? I haven't subscribed in years, so perhaps I'm missing something. All I know is, I've noticed a surprising downward spiral in the erroneous substitution of 'who' for 'that.'

So, in the interest of my sanity, here's a lesson.


a pronoun used to indicate a person or people

1. introduces a question—e.g. who’s at the door? who did you see?

2. introduces a relative clause—e.g. …meals for people who are too busy to cook…


a grammatical word used to indicate somebody or something that has already been mentioned or identified, or something that is understood by both the speaker and hearer

1. indicating distance from the speaker (adjective pronoun)—e.g. do you see that girl over there? That bag looks spacious. That looks nicer than this.

2. indicating a familiar person or thing (adjective)—e.g. did you read that email I sent? That woman we met yesterday was very kind. That was a great year.

3. indicating a type (adjective)—e.g. I really want a sleep that goes on forever.

4. identifying somebody or something (pronoun)—e.g. the committee that deals with admissions, the road that forks to the left, the day that he left

5. expressing a comment or fact (conjunction)—e.g. It was clear that she wanted to see the concert. The report stated that sales were up.

6. expressing a result (conjunction)—e.g. The train made such a loud noise that we had to cover our ears.

7. expressing a cause (conjunction)—e.g. I feel hurt that you should think such a thing. I’m sorry that I told my boss my concerns.

8. expressing purpose (conjunction)—e.g. Give, that others may live.

9. expressing desire or amazement (conjunction)—e.g. Oh that I had never said a thing!

10. to the stated degree (adverb)—e.g. I came that close to hitting the car in front of me.

11. so very (adverb)—e.g. I didn’t think she’d be that upset.

Now that I've given you the dictionary tutorial, here are examples of improper usage of that:

Moving to Texas is a big deal for a young woman that grew up in L.A.

"Look Mom! There is the man that makes sculptures using balloons!"

Example of proper usage of who:

Moving to Texas is a big deal for a young woman who grew up in L.A.

"Look Mom! There is the man who makes sculptures using balloons!"

And here's the clincher that started this rant. This was in the comment section of some random blog I read tonight where ironically the topic was—you guessed it—grammar.

The problem with people that don't understand this is that they do have sex, and then they breed another generation of idiots that still don't understand but also don't proofread.

The proper sentence should have been: The problem with people who don't understand this is that they do have sex, and then they breed another generation of idiots who still don't understand but also don't proofread.


Please, please, please, people--for the love of all that is grammatically holy—please use who when you're talking about a person! Using that is sloppy, lazy, and unacceptable and I don't care what anyone says about grammar rules no longer mattering. They do. So show a little pride.

Besides, without 'who' that rocking band we all loved wouldn't be "The Who," they'd be "The That," and that's just plain wrong, I don't care who you are.


Swizzies said...

I have a similar that/which grammar pet peeve. As my English teacher used to say, 'always go on which hunts!'

janeannechovy said...

I have lots of other grammar/spelling/usage pet peeves, but that/which is still something about which I am not completely clear. Now, if you wanna talk less/fewer (or, of course, loath/loathe), I am your gal!

Bored Dominatrix said...

This is also one of my grammar pet peeves. I mark it all the time in student papers but it never seems to help.

Daedalus said...

Yeah, that drives me crazy, too. However, the worst error is the use of apostrophe s for plurals! So many morons do it! ARGH! I get so upset just thinking about it! HENCE THE EXCLAMATIONS! AND THE CAPS!!!!!!