Which, That, Who and Whom

versusHave you ever written a sentence and stopped to think, “Is it that or whichWhichThat?” Sorting out which/that and who/whom can leave even the most grammar conscious scratching their heads. However, today on Amazing Words Wednesday, we’re going to try to sort it all out.

Let’s start first with deciding whether you need to use that/which or who/whom. How about the following sentence?

The guy ____(who/that) asked me out looks a lot like Hugh Jackman.

Would you fill the blank with who or that?

If you are certain that it is a person, use who. It’s more specific. In conversation, you may find people using that, but when writing you can be more accurate.

But what about an organization? The Supreme Court is now treating corporations like persons. Should the English language do the same?

The company ____ (who/that) hired me is owned by Disney.

Did you use who or that?

In spite of the Citizens v. United decision by the Supreme Court, companies are not people. They are not who. A company is a collective noun, or more specifically a thing, and thus can be referred to as it. For instance, a team is the same way. You would say of a team that it did better this year than last. So the correct choice with a company, team, etc. would be that.

However, we don’t usually even talk that way. To be precise, you may wish to say, “The Texans, who did better this year than last, still didn’t make it to the Super Bowl.” In this case, you have avoided that less precise collective noun and recognized that players (aka people), are really the ones who did well (but not well enough).

Now let’s distinguish when you should use that and when which is more appropriate.

Restrictive versus nonrestrictive is the primary issue here. Clauses within a sentence are restrictive if they are necessary to the meaning of the sentence. In this case, the proper word to use is that. Here are some examples:

The way that he looked at his watch gave me the impression that he wanted this date to end.

The final straw that sent me storming out was when he took a phone call from his ex-girlfriend.

In both cases, the clause in italics is pertinent to the message of the sentence as a whole. It communicates necessary information.

Contrast that with a non-restrictive clause, which provides perhaps interesting but unnecessary information:

He kept looking at his wristwatch, which was a pretentious gold-and-diamond Rolex, throughout our date.

This evening, which reminded me why I hated first dates, made me swear off dating for a good six months…or at least six weeks.

In these examples, the sentence would have the same essential meaning without the italicized phrases, and thus use the word which. It is also why the phrases are set off by commas.

Of course, it isn’t always this easy to spot. Sometimes you may need to pause and ask yourself whether the information is extraneous or integral to your primary meaning. A phrase introduced by which may still be important, even if it isn’t necessary to that particular sentence. Sometimes, it’s a judgment call.

The lights that would indicate someone was home were smashed.

The lights, which would indicate someone was home, were smashed.

Which is right? In this case, I think it’s up to the writer. What meaning do you wish to emphasize? Using that or which gives the reader a subtle clue.

Finally, let’s look at the use of who versus whomThis one is easiest to determine if you use the replacement principle. Who is a subject, like he/she/they. Whom is an object, like him/her/them. So if replacing the word with a specific would require he, she, or they, who is the word you need. If instead, you would use him, her, or them, go with whom.

Who is going to the party? He is going to the party. She is going to the party. They are going to the party.

Whom are they going to the party with? (Or for the sticklers, With whom are they going to the party?) They are going to the party with him. They are going to the party with her. They are going to the party with them.

All too often, the order is what throws us for a loop. Test yourself with this these:

I’ll go out with ________(whoever/whomever) buys me a three-course meal.

_______(Whoever/Whomever) you date will end up as an ex or your lifelong mate.

These are harder, right? I suggest using the same replacement principle, but extending it. Try both out:

I’ll go out with the guy who buys me a three-course meal OR I’ll go out with the guy whom buys me a three-course meal.

Reading it aloud, hopefully you cringed at “whom buys.” So in this example, whoever is the way to go.

The second example can be determined the same way:

The guy who you date will end up as an ex or your lifelong mate OR The guy whom you date will end up as an ex or your lifelong mate.

A little less clear, but it’s whom. You date him, not he. You is clearly the subject and whomever is the object.

By the way, it’s always bugged me: “Who’s zooming who?” (Aretha Franklin, 1985) should really be Who’s zooming whom? He’s zooming her. She’s zooming him. Now, if I could just figure out what zooming means.

Did that clear anything up? Or just confuse you more? Do you have any tricks for keeping who/whom and that/which straight?

Sources: Chicago Manual of Style; Grammar Girl Quick and Dirty Tips – People Versus Entities; Grammar Girl Quick and Dirty Tips – Which Versus That

Thanks to Karen Rought for suggesting the topic. It’s a tripper-upper indeed.

If Da Vinci Tweeted

Mona Lisa
Da Vinci’s most famous painting

This Amazing Words Wednesday post is inspired by writer Karen Rought, who recently posted on the wonderful artwork and wisdom of Leonardo Da Vinci.

Old Leo was the quintessential Renaissance man.

Can you imagine what this guy would have invented with a PC or an iPad? Let’s hope he would also use technology to tweet. Here are 20 top Da Vinci quotes of 140 characters or less:

1. The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions.

2. Art is never finished, only abandoned.

3. Life well spent is long.

4. I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.

5. All our knowledge has its origins in our perceptions.

6. Marriage is like putting your hand into a bag of snakes in the hope of pulling out an eel.

7. There are three classes of people: those who see, those who see when they are shown, those who do not see.

8. As a well-spent day brings happy sleep, so a life well spent brings happy death.

9. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

10. …people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.

11. Where there is shouting, there is no true knowledge.

12. Learning never exhausts the mind.

13. He who is fixed to a star does not change his mind.

15. As every divided kingdom falls, so every mind divided between many studies confounds and saps itself.

16. Where the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art.

17. Time stays long enough for anyone who will use it.

18. It’s easier to resist at the beginning than at the end.

19. You can have no dominion greater or less than that over yourself.

20. The smallest feline is a masterpiece.

Study of Cat Movements and Positions
Leonardo Da Vinci

Not bad, eh?

What’s your favorite Da Vinci quote–from the above or elsewhere? Do you have a favorite Da Vinci accomplishment?

The Language of Antiques with Guest Karen Rought

Karen Rought, Fiction Writer & Antique Expert

Today I am doing something entirely fresh. Please welcome a real-life guest to Amaze-ing Words Wednesday: Karen Rought. Karen writes novels and horror short stories and blogs at The Midnight Novelist. Her day job, for the time being, is selling treasures on eBay.

Most industries and occupations have their own way of talking–a unique vocabulary, acronyms only understood by the initiated, and a manner of stringing together ideas into language that connotes you know what the heck you’re talking about. Karen is going to help us peer into the labyrinth of language associated with antiques and collectibles.

Let’s start with the most basic vocabulary question for your business: What’s the difference between “antiques” and “collectibles”?

Ah, so much for easing you into the industry! This is actually a gray-area in terms of definitions, and if you talk to different people you’ll probably get different answers. “Collectibles” is fairly basic – it’s anything that would be considered desirable by collectors. There are the obvious ones likes coins, stamps, and knick-knacks, and the less obvious ones like toasters or even the hair of celebrities (I know, weird, right?). At work, we define an “antique” as anything that is 100 years or older. In association with that, you’ll often see the word “vintage,” which is anything that’s 20 years or older.

You have a feature on the blog you maintain for the antique business called Word of the Week. It informs readers about vocabulary associated with antiques and collectibles. How do you come up with what word to feature each week?

I have a list of words that I work from. Sometimes I’ll choose a word that I’ve been dealing with a lot lately, or maybe one that generally gives people a lot of trouble. Other times I might choose a word that I’m struggling with – there’s nothing like trying to explain the definition to somebody else to get yourself to learn it as well! And we’re always open to suggestions, too. If someone has something that they’re struggling with, I’ll do some research and feature it on the blog!

What has been your favorite (or one of favorites) Word of the Week?

I really enjoyed writing about Vaseline glass because I actually didn’t know much about how it was made prior to writing that article. I love teaching people in general, but I especially love it when I can learn something in the process, too.

Did you know the language of antiquing before you entered the job, or did you learn it since? Do you have a strong command of the vocabulary, or do you still learn words as you go?

I’ve always been interested in antiques, so I had a small command of the “language” for a while. Once I began working at ItsAllOurVault, my knowledge increased exponentially. Before, I would walk into an antique store and appreciate what I saw – even if I didn’t know what it was. Now, I can’t go in there without saying, “Oh! Look at that depression glass,” or “This is a really nice Hull vase!” My best friend rolls her eyes at me a lot – she just can’t understand how I remember it all. But it’s like anything else: if you take a serious interest in something, your brain is like a sponge. There’s no limit to what you can learn.
And that’s true for me too. I’m always learning new words, new phrases, new pattern names. The world of antiques and collectibles is vast; there’s no way that one person could know everything. My boss has been in the business for about 12 years now, and sometimes I teach her new things. As long as you’re open to it, there’s always going to be more to learn.

I’ve noticed that the description of an antique item can get rather long when it includes brand, material, time period, etc. What type of words do you look for when shopping for an item?

When shopping for an item to resell, you want to look at everything – because everything matters. Brand can be the most important factor sometimes. Some people collect certain things just for that brand – like Sarah Coventry jewelry. It’s always better if something is stamped with the name of the maker than not stamped at all. The same goes for material. Whenever we look at flatware, we try to find pieces stamped with silverplate or .925 (which denotes sterling silver). Any kind of silver is better than stainless, and if it’s stamped with the material, it’s proof of what it’s made out of. You don’t often find a pieces stamped with the time period (especially if it’s old), but if an expert can say something is Victorian versus Mid-century, it’s always better than not knowing for sure which time period something came from.

Plenty of business fields use acronyms as short-cuts in conversation. Does the antiques and collectibles business have any regularly-used acronyms?

Absolutely, and more than anything this is true on eBay where your titles have a limited word count. We use acronyms that serious buyers would know, to save ourselves some room for other keywords. Here’s a short list: EPNS – Electroplated Nickle Silver (This is often stamped on the bottom of silverplated items. It’s not quite as nice as “regular” silverplate, but it’s close).  SP – Silverplate. NIB – New in Box. NWT – New with Tags. NWOT – New without Tags. NOS – New Old Stock (This denotes vintage items that were overstocked and that have never been used before).

I have to ask: Have you used any of your antique/collectible vocabulary or knowledge in any of your fiction?

Believe it or not, I haven’t! I just don’t really write books that have to do with these sort of things. Although, I’ve had plenty of ideas for stories that might center around antiques. I definitely want to look into creating something like that – “write what you know” and all that!

What else should we know about the language of antique and collectible treasures?

You should know that the language of antiques and collectibles is vast. The words and phrases that I know are just the tip of the iceberg. Each category has its own language. It can take years to be able to speak fluently, especially if you want to know makers and pattern names on top of the usual jargon. But don’t worry – you don’t need to know everything to still be able to understand what other people are talking about. It’s just like anything else: take the time to poke around and see what you’re interested in. You’ll start to pick up on different words here and there. And always feel free to shoot me a message if you have any questions or you need some help. The whole point of that other blog (and our soon-to-be website) is to educate and help people however we can.

Want to know more? Track Karen and It’s All Our Vault down through one or more of the following:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/CollectorsChron
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/collectorschronicles
Blog: http://itsallourvault.wordpress.com/

Thanks, Karen! Wasn’t that interesting? I didn’t know much about these different terms before this post. I also now have a promise from Karen that if I’m ever in her area, we can go antiquing! While I’m not personally interested in the monetary value of such objects, I love the history associated with antiques and collectibles.

So what did you learn from this post about the language of antiques? What other questions do you have? Does your field have a vocabulary of its own?

And be sure to check out Karen’s writing blog as well at The Midnight Novelist.

Tagged Again & Cool Questions

Welcome to Deep-Fried Friday! Yum. I’ve been tagged again to answer some questions, this time by The Midnight Novelist, Karen Rought.

I should warn people generally that I’m that girl who broke the chain in high school. You know, when someone sent out letters and you had to rewrite the whole thing and find seven more people to give it to or you’d have eons of horrible luck. Yeah, I threw away the letter.

Thus, I will never get oodles of good fortune, fifty-six pairs of panties, or the prayers of monks in Nepal because I’m a chain-breaker. Why? Chalk it up to laziness, I suppose.

Plus a good dose of curiosity. After all, I was promised in that chain letter that I would be bereft of joy, never experience the love of a decent man, and my girl parts would shrivel up before I reached age 30. I HAD TO KNOW: Would that all come true? I was willing to offer myself up as the test case, the guinea pig, the rat in the maze, the girl in the padded experiment room. All for the sake of curiosity.

Which is why I am not ignoring Karen’s questions, because they are curious ones. Cool ones. Wonderful questions that I’m happy to answer. So why not?

1. What book or series can you read over and over again without getting bored?

This is a hard question because I eventually get bored with almost anything over and over. That said, I might pick a children’s book. I could read Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hatches the Egg over and over or maybe Owl Moon by Jane Yolen or Animalia by Graeme Base.

If I had to pick adult fiction, perhaps I’d go with C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces — a fascinating retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche.

2. If you decided not to be a writer, what would your other dream job be?

I kicked around a few ideas and decided that my other dream job would be Communications Director for the Bayard/Lamb White House. I’d love to stand behind that lectern and explain the common sense approach to governance of the Foxie with Moxie team. Journalists, beware! I am quick-witted and ready to spar.

3. What is the scariest thing you’ve ever done in your life?

Have children. Don’t tell my kids, but I don’t always know what the heck I’m doing.

4. If there was one fad that you could bring back from when you were a kid, what would it be?

Leg warmers. Seriously, how cool were these?

5. Who is the one person that has singlehandedly inspired you the most in your life?

I’m of the “it takes a village” philosophy, so this one is so tough. Can I pick a Bible person? Sure, I could go with Jesus as the ultimate inspiration, but I can’t picture myself living up to the Big Man. But the Apostle Peter: I take heart from him. He had all this passion and a desire for a mission in life and chalked up numerous failures. But he never gave up. He screwed up, learned something, and tried again. That stick-to-it-iveness inspires me to keep going.

6. If you could take a trip to any foreign country RIGHT NOW, which one would you choose?

This answer has been the same for years: Israel. Yes, I know that seems crazy to many. However, having heard and read Bible stories since childhood, I do indeed want to see these places in person. I want to walk where Jesus walked.

7. What is one talent that you’re hopeless at, but you wish you had?

Sports. I’m a rather petite woman, so power has never been my forte. I wanted to be able to serve an ace in tennis or hit a home run in baseball. But I’m not that strong.

8. What TV show are you most addicted to?

After discussion with my husband, it was agreed that I would watch Gilmore Girls every day if it were on and I had time. I love the rich characterization, the brilliant scripts, and the quirkiness of the series. (Admittedly, the last season or two dropped in quality.)

9. If you were stuck on a deserted island, name three objects and three people you would want with you.

Thank goodness I have a family of four. I would take my husband and two children. As for objects, how about a deck of cards, a blanket, and a broad-rimmed hat? That’s a lame list, I  know. But every cool thing I could think of would break eventually or require batteries or an internet connection.

10. If you could be any animal, what would you be?

Black panther. Sleek, fierce, beautiful.

11. What is one trait or physical characteristic that you are proud of/love about yourself?

A few weeks ago, I wrote about describing yourself in Me, in One Word Only. The word I chose was passionate. I don’t have an opinion about everything, but when I do commit to something, I am passionate about it. I would have myself no other way.

Now comes the tagging part, which as I confessed earlier, I stink at. So how about 11 questions, and commenters pick 2-3 favorites to answer? (You can certainly answer more than that, if you wish.)

1. Do you like your own name? Why or why not?
2. What’s your favorite thing to shop for?
3. What was the best concert you attended?
4. What’s the last book you purchased to read?
5. Do you have any phobias? If so, what?
6. If you had to pick a color to describe yourself, what would it be?
7. What’s the strangest dish you ever ate?
8. Do you have a nickname for your beloved? Can you share it?
9. What’s something you did as a teen that your parents still don’t know about?
10. Compare and contrast the use of animals as symbols of deeper conflicts in Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and George Orwell’s Animal Farm. 😉
11. Are you a chain letter keeper or breaker by nature?

So there you have it. Answer away! And check out Karen Rought’s blog. She came up with cool questions because she’s a super-cool writer and worth following. Thanks, Karen!

A note on another fellow writer/blogger: Jillian Dodd has a bet with CJ West that she can get 5,000 comments on his blog. If she does, West will make an appearance on an upcoming MANDay on Jillian’s blog. It’s a friendly bet and I think Jillian can do it. Let’s help her get to 5,000 by commenting HERE.