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ESL forum > Grammar and Linguistics > "Who?" and "Which?"    

"Who?" and "Which?"

United Kingdom

"Who?" and "Which?"

Several days ago, I prepared a Post in answer to a Grammar Question from ‘carlairp’, regarding ‘Who’ and ‘Which’.

Other Members posted slightly similar questions.

I spent 7 hours preparing a well-researched Post in reply. Then, I pressed a key on my PC, and my Post DISAPPEARED.

I have laboriously re-written the POST, and here it is. It may help carlairp, and possibly other Members.

“can you please tell which relative is correct in this sentence: "Your new family will be the one WHO / WHICH can help you in a strange house."? or if both are possible?”

Dear carlairp,

For reference, I am using “A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language”, 2010, by Professor Randolph Quirk, and four other Professors of English.

Page 316, 5.108, (e) Collective nouns.

There follows a long list which includes the word ‘family’.

So, ‘family’ is a collective noun.

“These (collective nouns) differ from other nouns in taking as pronoun coreferents, (in taking as pronouns to which they refer), either singular ‘it’, and relative ‘which’ or plural ‘they’ and relative ‘who’ without change of number in the noun.”

There is an example, using ‘committee’.

Both are shown as acceptable.

1) The committee has met and it has rejected the proposal.

2) The committee have met and they have rejected the proposal.

The difference reflects a difference in point of view: the singular stresses the nonpersonal collectivity of the group, and the plural stresses the personal individuality within the group.

In other words, depending on YOUR opinion, YOU make the choice whether you think the word, ‘family’, is singular, or plural.

If you think of the ‘family’ as a unified group, use the singular.

If you think of the ‘family’ as individual persons within a group, use the plural.


Page 366, Table 6.33, Relative Pronouns.
        who        which
        whom        which
       whose        whose         whose

To explain some of the vocabulary used in this Table.

Restrictive = Defining

A modifier that restricts, or that defines, or that identifies a noun.

For example:

‘My blind friend’‘blind’ specifically identifies one particular friend among all my friends. It describes one, unique friend.

Non-Restrictive = Non-Defining

A modifier that simply adds information to what we already know.

For example: “My blind mother”‘blind’ simply gives more information about my mother.

Personal = refers to persons, people, human beings.

Non-Personal = Refers to non-persons, things, objects, animals, creatures.

“Your new family” is the Subject of the sentence.

In my opinion, “Your new family”, is a restrictive phrase.

So, to answer your question, according to Randolph Quirk et al, the following are all acceptable answers:

Restrictive and Personal.

1. "Your new family will be the ones WHO can help you in a strange house."

2. "Your new family will be the ones THAT can help you in a strange house."

Restrictive and Non-Personal.

3. "Your new family will be the one WHICH can help you in a strange house."

4. "Your new family will be the one THAT can help you in a strange house."

If this were an examination question, with the choice of only ‘Who’ or ‘Which’, I would choose 3.

3. "Your new family will be the one WHICH can help you in a strange house."

But, of course, there are various ways to make this statement, (as other Members indicate), without using these exact words.

… … …

However, read the following paragraph carefully.

Page 7.


Countries where English is a foreign language may develop, to some extent, independent prescriptive norms that are enshrined in handbooks and textbooks and that are reflected in examination questions.

In other words: your educational establishment may say that you MUST speak/write English according to certain grammar Rules that THEY describe as being CORRECT. If you wish to obtain high marks in their examinations, you should obey these Rules.

Be careful. If you ignore these Rules, your answer may be marked as INCORRECT.

I hope that this is of help to you and to other Members.

Les Douglas


24 Oct 2018      

maryse peyé

Thank  you Les for your precious help and your dedication here ! Your explanation are so detailed and clear that it is a pleasure to learn.
Thanks so much dear friend.

25 Oct 2018     


A gem !

25 Oct 2018     


7 hours???+  ?? to recover the information?... God bless you so much! You are a really good person, and deserve good things happening to you... THANKS FOR BEING LIKE SO!! 
Such a detailed explanation, I love it!!!! THANKSSSSS!!

25 Oct 2018     


What an excellent post! Thank you so much!

25 Oct 2018     


Thank you so much. 

25 Oct 2018     


Reading from you  I thought I was back on the university benches during a grammar lesson!!......... not so long ago!!!!!!
Thaaaaaaanks for your explanation dear Les!

25 Oct 2018     


Thank you very much. As always, you are of a great help to all of us.

26 Oct 2018     


Thank you very much for your accurate information.

27 Oct 2018     


You are one of a kind, dear Les! I appreciate your help. 

29 Oct 2018