Hoo, Witch, and Dat

 Okay, kids. (I call everybody 'kids,' regardless of their age. I currently teach adults, but I still call them kids. When I taught kids, I addressed them as 'ladies and gentlemen.' Yes, I am aware of the injustice. Just don't be offended if I call you a kid and you're twice my age, which would make you nearly 68.)

Today we're going to talk about three words and three words only: who, which, and that. Okay, knowing me, I'll go off-topic and somehow come back eventually. Who, which, and that (and whoever, whom, whomever, whose) are all relative pronouns. A pronoun replaces a noun. There are subdivisions, such as subjective, objective, and possessive pronouns, but I would have to create a chart to explain those. Maybe some other time...

Anyway, relative pronouns are words that connect a subject (i.e., a person) with information about that subject. Here are some examples:

1) The basketball player who earned the Most Valuable Player Award was my brother.

2) The Obsessed with Stephen King Fan Club, which I began years ago, has several members.

3) The book that introduced the phrase 'Redrum' was The Shining.

Notice how the information to the left of the bolded words are elaborated upon to the right of the bolded words. "The basketball player" is only part of the subject. That person also "earned the MVP Award." He also happens to be my brother (True story!). If you question why there is not a comma there, read on MacDuff.

In the second sentence, the word 'which' introduces more information about a thing, as opposed to 'who,' which always refers to a person. There is a comma used here. Notice the rest of the sentence: The OWSTFC ... has several members. If we took away the ellipses, this sentence stands on its own. The fact that I started it years ago is not needed, but it adds to the sentence and further describes the subject. I didn't really start that fan club. It's all in my mind. Because that information is unnecessary (non-essential), it is set off by commas.

'That' is a lonely word. He never gets visited by commas. Okay, he does, but when people do that, they are not punctuating their sentences correctly. 'That' also introduces more information about the subject (or perhaps object of a sentence, but the same rule applies). However, 'that' is far superior to 'which.' 'That' always introduces essential information. Let's look back at that sentence (pun?).

The book that introduced the phrase 'Redrum' was The Shining.

Let's take away the 'that' phrase. It leaves us with "The book was The Shining." Now, it is a complete sentence, but it is not a very exciting one. What separates this book from others is that it introduced a phrase that became part of cultural knowledge. This is what the sentence is "about" and thus must be included and cannot be set apart by commas. It just can't.

Quick review before going on:

That - never uses commas.

Which - always set off by commas.

Who - well, that's not so simple.

I've used the terms essential and non-essential. If the 'who' phrase introduces information that is needed for the sentence to make sense, it is NOT set off by commas. If the introduced info (getting tired; I'm overusing contractions and shortened words) is non-essential, meaning the sentence can function without it, the 'who' phrase is set off by commas.

The chef who created this fine meal studied at Le Cordon Bleu.

Because the first seven words all describe the subject who studied, there is no need to put a comma there.

The bartender, who works as a clown in children's hospitals, makes one mean White Russian.

The fact that this bartender works as a clown for a second job is non-essential, but interesting. The words on both sides of the commas can stand on their own as one sentence. Agreed? Because of this, the non-essential phrase is set off.

One more thing before leaving these first three... Many people do this: Can I speak to the person that helps with registration? We know better than this. Because we are speaking about a person, we would use the relative pronoun 'who.'

Before I lose my grammar speed, a few words on whoever, whom, whomever, and whose...

All these words refer to people.

'Whoever' is used when you are referring to a person (or people) in a situation when the identity is not known.

Whoever has the serial versions of The Green Mile would make me happy if they sent them my way.

Whom. Oh, whom. To whom or not to whom. This is easier than most people believe. You know that hackneyed phrase 'To Whom It May Concern.' Someone is receiving that letter. They are receiving the action; thus the word 'whom' is used. 'Whom' is an objective pronoun. This means they receive something instead of performing/doing something. So...

The massage therapist whom you met is one of my co-workers.

The therapist received the meeting.

To whom does this belong? This sounds snobbish, but it is absolutely correct. Someone owns the book. It belongs to someone; thus it is an object.

Now, let's combine these last two ideas. 'Whomever' is used when an unidentified person receives an action.

I will offer extra help to whomever asks for it.

The people who take the help are those receiving the object of 'help.' I will give this object to whomever. Make sense?

One more. You've been very patient.

'Whose' is a possessive pronoun. It shows that one thing (usually) belongs to a person.

The child, whose collection of tarot cards scares other children, is extremely bright.

Now, remembering your rule for commas, you will agree this is punctuated correctly. The child possesses the collection, so to combine these two concepts, the word 'whose' is used.

Alright, kids. I think I'm going to go read some Stephen King later. Whoever has any topics they'd like me to discuss, please let me know.

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JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 5 years ago from Deep South, USA

This is an informative article, as well as an entertaining one. I'm beginning to recognize this as your writing style. Is it also your teaching style? If so, your actual classes must be a lot of fun for those of your students who appreciate what you teach.

Jaye

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