who. which

In April 2002, I asked the editor of the Chicago Manual of Style the following question:

Q: Whereas referring to people calls for who (“Jon, who is…”), referring to things calls for which (“The computer, which is…”) Which are appropriate for animals and God?

A: For an extensive and reasonable discussion of this issue, see Fowler’s, 3d edition, s.v. “that.” Here’s the summary to the applicable section in Fowler’s:

Normally use who as the relative pronoun following a human antecedent and that (or which) following an inanimate antecedent. Either who or that may be used when the antecedent is animate but not human, or when the antecedent is human but representative of a class or is an indefinite pronoun. In contexts containing a double antecedent, of which the first is human and the second inanimate, that is naturally required (he answered accusingly, as though it was she and not the drug that had done it).

I would say that Chicago agrees with this philosophy, more or less. As for God, who knows? I’d treat the God that I know as an animate antecedent.

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