Who cares about “who”?

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Here’s why I care about correct use of the pronoun who — and why you should care, too…

I try not to be outraged by simple grammatical errors. I grew up in a household where my father heaped scorn on people who didn’t speak correctly. As a result, I try to be understanding when I hear people say things like “for all intensive purposes” (when what they mean is “for all intents and purposes.”)

But there’s one grammatical error that really gets under my skin: using the pronoun “that” when referring to people. For example:

People that pay their bills on time are well respected.

Children that want to do well in school will do their homework.

Employees that are late for work will have their pay docked.

In all these cases, the correct pronoun to use is “who.”

I hear this error not just in my everyday world but in the corporate one as well. And, to be honest, it makes me think less of the people — sometimes senior executives — who use it. I’m not sure why it affects me so greatly. Perhaps it’s because it seems disrespectful.

People are people, not chattels or cattle. And if an executive doesn’t use the correct pronoun for employees or customers, it suggests to me that he or she doesn’t care very much about them. (And I’m not even a grammar zealot.)

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