I ran across this sentence, written by a “professional” writer the other day:
“There are some professionals out there that actually have the reading comprehension of a lima bean.”
That is a direct quote. Clearly, this one has the writing abilities of an eggplant. Did you spot the error?
Here’s another example – made up for the purpose:
“Abner is the guy that bought my old mini van.”
Did you see it this time?
When you refer to a person twice within a sentence by using a relative pronoun, the basic rule is to replace the noun with who or whom. “Who” is used if the noun is the subject of the sentence. “Whom” is used if the noun is an object in the sentence. So, the correct sentence would be:
“There are some professionals out there who actually have the reading comprehension of a lima bean.”
“Abner is the guy who bought my old mini van.”
The former Dean of Faculty where I teach used to make this exact mistake in his emails. I corrected him once, and I received a rather terse reply about how I was wrong. Knowing he had a copy of the text book I teach from at his desk, I gave him the page number to verify my information. I didn’t get a reply after that. Some people don’t like being corrected because they have a hard time admitting their flaws.
This is a really common error, but it’s an easily identifiable and fixable one, too. The easiest trick for remembering this rule is that people are whos, not whats or thats.