August 21, 2008

Weekly Language Usage Tips: who/that/which, farther/further

Posted in farther and further, that, which, who at 6:49 pm by dlseltzer

I worry a little bit about these e-newsletters becoming somewhat long since the WLUT was intended to briefly inform and entertain and not to take up too much of your time. So I’ve decided to post all feedback on the website ( Your comments, reactions, etc. (and my responses) for each e-newsletter item are now included with the original posts. This strategy also allows me to add a new feature to the WLUT, which I am calling, until we can come up with something more clever,

. Sightings are items from newspapers, magazines, store signs, street signs, billboards, and other places that any of us spot and find egregious or downright funny. Send in your sightings to share with the rest of the group. If you have trouble spotting the errors in the sightings below, we should talk. To start off, here are two sightings that readers sent in this week.


Strange tale of a family falling apart
Teens’ forced exile to trailer park ends in arrest of former UPMC doctor, wife
Sunday, August 17, 2008
By Daniel Malloy, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Reached at his home, Dr. Yaw expressed frustration at the charges and media coverage but politely declined comment on the advice of council.


Just got back from a vacation in Vermont. Driving back, we passed through Wilkes-Barre, and actually drove through the city looking for a place to eat lunch. We passed a sign for a discount carpet place that read — I kid you not — as follows:

Out-door Carpet’s Remnant’s!

Unfortunately, the camera was packed.


Now for the Tips. By the way, I am going to stop using quotation marks around key words since I have found that some of you are getting weird symbols. I’ll try italicizing the key words to see if that works better.

Tip 1: Who, that, and which

This tip was requested by a reader who hates seeing that used in a clause that is referring to a person.

The woman that was disembarking was not on the passenger’s manifest. WRONG

The woman who was disembarking was not on the passenger’s manifest. RIGHT

Who, that, and which are all relative pronouns (along with whom and whose). Relative pronouns substitute for the noun preceding the pronoun. On the face of it, the rules are very simple:

Who refers to people; which refers to things in a nonrestrictive clause; that refers to things in a restrictive clause.

He concentrated deeply as he tried to recall the name of the girl who had smiled at him.

The results of the study, which was conducted last year, showed the usefulness of AI in developing communication tools.

The results of the study that examined the utility of AI in developing communication tools was conducted last year.

(See the WLUT post of February 12 for a discussion of that and which and restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses (

But, of course, we’re talking about English grammar, here, and in English grammar, rarely is anything simple or completely straightforward.

That may also be used when referring to non-specific people or when using a collective noun.

The investigator that finally answers the question will win the Nobel Prize. RIGHT

The investigator who finally answers the question will win the Nobel Prize. RIGHT

The team that won the Super Bowl was, sadly, not the Steelers. RIGHT

The investigator that wrote the seminal work, Origin of the Species, was Charles Darwin. WRONG

The investigator who wrote the seminal work, Origin of the Species, was Charles Darwin. RIGHT

So there you’ve got it. Easy, right?

Tip 2. Further or farther?

Further and farther are often confused and used interchangeably, but they have distinct meanings and should not be used as synonyms.

Farther refers to physical distance. Further is a more abstract concept and refers to an extent of time or degree. In other words, farther is associated with physical distance, and further is associated with metaphorical distance.

Paris is farther away than New York.

I’m tired and cannot walk any farther.

Further research is warranted before we have conclusive proof.

I have nothing further to say on the subject; the matter is closed.

Now, a number of dictionaries state that further can also be used to indicate a physical distance.

How much further do we have to go before we get there?

I have no argument with that and believe that is really a judgment call; however, farther can NEVER be used in the abstract sense.

When I write these tips, I usually prepare the first draft and then go to my books or on-line to see if there are other viewpoints. When exploring further and farther, I came across this site at CMU. Now, I love CMU; I graduated from CMU, but I have to believe that some of these very analytical people have way too much time on their hands. Check out this analysis of farther vs. further.


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