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Metaphorical modification
Thread poster: fellony
Jan 19, 2007


Can someone tell me how to differentiate between the relative pronouns which modify both "animate" and "inanimate" things figuratively or in a metaphorical way.


You are my sun --------shines in my dark world.

a) who b) which

He is the lion of desert --------has no mercy for his/its enemies

a) who b)which

That guy is a donkey------is stubborn and unwilling to agree on the issue.

a) who b) which

She is my chocolate cake -------I eat three times a day.

a) who b) which

He is a cucumber -------tastes nasty

a) who b) which

A native said "....donkey which" but "......lion who"

Aren't they both animals?

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Jenny Forbes  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:48
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
Try using "that" instead Jan 19, 2007

You could try using "that" instead of either "who" or "which", thus obviating the problem of whether a person, animal or thing is concerned.

e.g. You are my sun that shines every day.

That guy's a donkey that is stubborn and ...

Or even recast the sentence completely, omitting any relative pronoun.

e.g. He's a nasty-tasting cucumber.

That guy's a stubborn donkey ...

Just a thought!

[Edited at 2007-01-19 21:58]

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Local time: 23:48
English to Latvian
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Tough Jan 19, 2007

I am not native in English therefore I don't feel like I can give any you tips, but one. Don't always listen to or trust native speakers. Native speakers often speak a gramatically incorrect language. My main working language is German and I have argued with countless Germans because they were thinking the way I spoke (use tenses, articles etc.) was wrong. I agree, I do make mistakes (especially when speaking), and I always welcome corrections, but I always proved them wrong when I used the correct tense, grammatical form etc. You should only trust native speakers who have an academic knowledge of their language.

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Patricia Rosas  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 14:48
Spanish to English
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Chicago Manual of Style's rules Jan 20, 2007

At least for US academic publishing world, the rules of the Chicago Manual of Style reign:

From Section 5.58:
Who refers only to a person, ... Which refers only to an animal or a thing. What refers only to a nonliving thing. Which and what are used only in the second and third person. That refers to a person, animal, or thing ...

Many people today use "that" (rather than who) when referring to a person. As Jenny pointed out, "that" could be used in each and every case you cite.

On the other hand, "which" (at least for US English) would be wrong since the phrase that follows is restrictive (which is used only for nonrestrictive clauses). As the CMS notes: "Although which can be used restrictively, many careful writers preserve the distinction between restrictive that (no commas) and nonrestrictive which (commas). "

I can't believe that a native speaker would say "that guy is a donkey which is stubborn" ...

There are other, better solutions:

That guy is a stubborn donkey
He is the lion of the desert, without mercy for his enemies
He is a nasty-tasting cucumber!
(Where DID you come up with these??)

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lexical  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:48
Portuguese to English
To echo Patricia.. Jan 20, 2007

... how did you come up with these sentences?

For someone who claims to be a monolingual English speaker, "He is a cucumber..." and "She is my chocolate cake..." are odd beyond belief.

I commend you for wanting to understand the difference in usage between who, which and that, but I don't think you are being entirely honest with us.

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Richard Benham  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:48
German to English
+ ...
Who, etc. Apr 14, 2007

I think the sentences are somewhat preposterous, and shall therefore not comment on them directly.

However, I would point out that it is quite common and acceptable to use who to refer to animals which are being personified (or anthropomorphized, or whatever). If you are talking about an animal’s feelings or intentions, whether or not this makes sense from a scientific or philosophical point of view, then you use the pronoun who. The same goes for abstracts like love or death, if they are being personified (and traditionally, in these cases, the nouns are capitalised: “Grim Death, who spares no one...”.

I have never seen any harm in non-restrictive which, and think the rigid distinction “that for restrictive, which for non-restrictive”, which Microsoft keeps trying to enforce on me, produces some rather wooden and clunky sentences. Even the CMS gives some grudging acceptance to non-restrictive which. It is possible (and necessary) to distinguish between restrictive and non-restrictive clauses with punctuation anyway.

On an historical note, my late grandmother, who died over 30 years ago, was an English teacher, and one of her old textbooks said that which was strictly speaking the only correct relative pronoun, but added that the best writers of all ages had ignored this rule.

But Patricia, there is something I don’t understand:
From Section 5.58:
Who refers only to a person, ... Which refers only to an animal or a thing. What refers only to a nonliving thing. Which and what are used only in the second and third person. That refers to a person, animal, or thing ...

Is this specifically about relative pronouns, or what? If so, I am amazed to learn that you can use what as a relative. This is the sort of thing what I was told not to do from a very early age in all the books what I read at the school. what was down the road... If it’s more general, or about something else, I think you should have made that clear. Besides, it simply doesn’t seem to be true. “You are what you have made yourself” would have to be wrong if what is not allowed to refer to living creatures.... (The restriction is hopeless in the case of interrogatives, because if you hear a noise or see a shape in the darkness, you might not know whether it’s a living thing before you say “What’s that?”)

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