Most writers know that “who” refers to human beings and “that” refers to things, so it’s correct to say “people who drink lemonade” and not “people that drink lemonade.”
But sometimes writers aren’t sure what pronoun to use when nouns referring to groups of people are used in a sentence.
Incorrect: “Companies who follow these guidelines provide a great service.”
Correct: “Companies that follow these guidelines provide a great service.”
Because a company is a thing, a business entity, you would use the pronoun “that” – even though the thing (company) is made up of people.
What pronoun do you use when there are two nouns?
Pronouns and the nouns they represent (also known as antecedents) should be in agreement, meaning the correct pronoun represents the correct noun. It’s trickier to determine agreement when there’s more than one noun in a sentence.
Look at this example: “The individual or team with the most points is the one that wins the game.”
The first antecedent is “individual” – a person – so “who” would be the correct pronoun to use. But then there’s “team,” which is a collective noun, or unit, representing individual people. In this case, “team” is a thing, not a human being, so “that” would be used as the pronoun.
So, how do you edit the original sentence correctly if each antecedent needs a different pronoun? The Associated Press Stylebook recommends that it’s best to rewrite the sentence.
Here’s one suggestion:
“The winner of the game is the individual or team with the most points.”
Your goal as a content creator is to make your content grammatically correct and as clear as possible.
You don’t want awkward sentences and grammatical errors stopping your readers in their tracks. So, as you proofread your content, check for pronouns and make sure you’re using the right ones.
[By the way, if you’re interested in learning more ways the word “that” can be used in a sentence, check out this post on the Part of Speech website.]