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All of the grammar books I have consulted indicate that who(m)/that are the only relative pronouns to be used with people.

I thought that you could use "which" when you point out a specific person in a group. Is this not acceptable/ is there a situation where one could use "which" to refer to a person directly?

A quick google search for "the man which" revealed several bible passages with this combination, but nothing in the line of grammar explanations.

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  • Which was routinely used in the seventeenth-century King James Version, but isn't nowadays. – Andrew Leach Dec 31 '14 at 14:51
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    The King James Bible was written over 400 years ago. Some of the rules of grammar were different then. – Peter Shor Dec 31 '14 at 14:52
  • @PeterShor agreed. Are there any circumstances where it'd be okay to use the "person which" combination? – JayJay Dec 31 '14 at 15:02
  • Wouldn't "who" sound strange in the sentences below? "I have found my person, which is Mary." "When I met my favorite person in the world, which is my next door neighbor ... " – Maria Mar 9 at 0:36
  • Why would you want to use any "relative…" to refer to people? Consider Kipling, whose provenance you surely know. Should he have written "The man which/that…" or was he right to write "The man who would be king"? – Robbie Goodwin Mar 11 at 1:45
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Purdue's Online Writing Lab provides this chart when talking about relative pronouns:

People: who, that; Things/Concepts: which, that

Note that people are referred to only by the relative pronouns who and that (the latter in informal English only), while things and concepts are referred to by which.

Another website for English language help, TutorPal.com, explains that the use of "which" to refer to people is one of the ways that the King James Bible's English differs from modern English:

Use of relative pronouns: In Middle English, the language of King James, we find “which” in many instances where we could expect “who.” For example, “Our father which art in heaven.”

So to answer your question, using which to refer to people used to be acceptable, but now it's not.

You might be interested in reading this essay, which summarizes the historical development and modern usage of relative pronouns.

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  • Please either convert images to text or apply alt text for those who cannot see images. – SrJoven Dec 31 '14 at 15:22
  • How do I apply alt text? – Nicole Dec 31 '14 at 15:23
  • when editing your answer, you'll see "enter image description here" which will be shown (verbally read) as-is (no HTML formatting). You don't have to be super descriptive. The table image can be something like "Things are which or that, People are who, that, whom, or whose." Which is probably just as well summarized without an image anyway. – SrJoven Dec 31 '14 at 15:26
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With question words it is acceptable to use which for people - Practical English Usage (Michael Swan):

622 which, what and who: question words

Which/What people have influenced you most in your life?

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We prefer which when we have a limited number of choices in mind.

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Before nouns, which and what can be used to ask questions about both things and people.

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Which teacher do you like best?

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  • This is probably what led me to use "which" in statements referring to people. – JayJay Dec 31 '14 at 15:34
  • It's different with questions. You would ask "Which teacher do you like best?" but you would say "Mr. Smith is the teacher whom (or who or that in less formal English) I like best." – Nicole Dec 31 '14 at 15:37

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