When to Use Who or That

When Should You Use Who or That?

In this context, who and that are being used as relative pronouns, which are used to relate the subject of a sentence, or the noun that the sentence is about to its object, which is the thing that is acted upon by the subject. These relative pronouns are being used to refer back to a person or thing that was previously mentioned. 

Let us look at some examples of this below. 

Who or That Examples

I have a friend who just went to California.
(In this case, who is referring to the friend.)

Do you know a teacher who can help me with my research paper?
(In this sentence, who refers to the teacher.)

This is the key that fits the front door lock.
(In this example, that is referring to the key.)

Rule for Determining Whether to Use Who or That

When you determine whether to use who or that, keep these simple guidelines in mind:

  • Who is always used to refer to people.
  • That is always used when talking about inanimate objects (that computer, that piece of paper…)
  • That can also be used when talking about a class or type of person, such as “that” team


Public Works and Government Services Canada, 2019
Adapted from Pro on March 13, 2017