I found the phrase “... the horse which ran was not the horse nor of the age which he was represented to be at the time of entry ...” in a sentence of Codes, Rules and Regulations of the State of New York 9 Executive (E) - Chapter 1, Subchapter A : State Racing Board Thoroughbred Rules, 4039.19. []

Is which wrong in the phrase above, or is it the exact word as the horse is a brute animal?

To be clear, which is grammatical : "... the horse which ran ..." or "... the horse who¹ ran ..."?

¹ See the following nGram for "cat who" (cat: no brute), "dog who" (dog: no brute), "horse who" (horse: brute) and "bull who" (bull: brute).

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    or 'the horse that ran...'? Commented May 1, 2012 at 21:23
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    You haven't spent too much time around cats, eh? Commented May 1, 2012 at 21:57
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    No, generally I am not intersted to the cats.
    – user19148
    Commented May 1, 2012 at 22:04
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    An ngrams for horse/dog/cat x that/which/who is more informative; it shows that being well out in front of which or who for all three species. Commented May 2, 2012 at 0:29
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    @tchrist, incorrect. Wiktionary's first two senses of adj. brute are: "Without reason or intelligence (of animals). [from 15th c.]" and "Characteristic of unthinking animals; senseless, unreasoning (of humans). [from 16th c.]". In my experience, brute as applied to animals usually says no more than "without reason or intelligence", ie says nothing of cruelty or kindness. Commented May 2, 2012 at 14:06

3 Answers 3


I agree that that sounds best.

To quote Building English Skills (McDougall, Littell, and Company):

The pronouns which and that also require special attention. Use that to introduce adjective clauses that are essential to the sentence. Use which to introduce nonessential clauses.

  • There is the painting that he loves so much. (that he loves so much is essential to the sentence.)
  • The painting, which he loves so much, is not for sale. (Here, the clause is not essential to the sentence.)

(Littell, Joy. "Sentence and Clause." Building English Skills: Yellow Level. Evanston, Illinois: McDougal, Littell & Co., 1985. 528. Print.)

In the sentence mentioned, it should be that, as the sentence qualifies the horse. It shows that the horse you're referring to is the one that ran, perhaps singling it out from a group of other horses that did not. You're not simply describing it, noting that it ran, as you would be were the sentence "The horse, which ran, ...".

Also, a clause containing which should be separated by commas: "The horse, which ran, ...", which is not the case for a clause containing that: "The horse that ran..."

  • Certainly "that" sounds better than anything else, especially if the sentence is uttered instead of written down. It was interesting but slightly surprising to read the excerpt you pasted, because I have not found a similar recommendation in British English texts. Surely "that" cannot be used in non essential clauses, but I don't think that the opposite holds (that is, that we cannot use "which" in essential ones). Would your text argue the same if it were referred to a person, then using "who"?
    – Paola
    Commented May 2, 2012 at 10:58
  • @Paola - Sincerely, what do you think of my question and of the difference I referred to brute and no brute animals when we have to choice between "who" and "which"?
    – user19148
    Commented May 2, 2012 at 12:31
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    @Carlo_R. I agree with what others said before about this sentence being slightly "oddly worded". As for the relative pronoun, I don't have any problem with it; "that" might be more frequent but "which" is definitely correct. Pets, or animals which are closely connected to someone (for example, a donkey for the person who uses it every day), may be referred to as individuals and thus you could use "him/her", "his/her" and consequently even "who", though it would sound out of place to my ear.
    – Paola
    Commented May 2, 2012 at 12:54
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    @Carlo_R. As an afterthought, just consider that we may refer to a male cat as a "tomcat" and a female one as a "she-cat", so nobody would wince if you used "he/she" referring to them. Finally, think of the relation between the Alpine soldier and his mule in Salvatores' film "Mediterraneo". No wonder that in the film the animal would be referred to as a human being, although a mule is rarely a pet.
    – Paola
    Commented May 2, 2012 at 12:58
  • @Paola: Yes, the same would apply using who as a relative pronoun.
    – wchargin
    Commented May 6, 2012 at 5:54

In our veterinary publications, we don't generally use "who" as a pronoun for animals. (In fact, we avoid "his" and "her," too.) Exceptions might be made when the animal is named and the publication's intended audience is the pet owner. I agree with cornbread ninja's comment that the which in both places should be that. Based on the given excerpt, these appear to be restrictive clauses.

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    You don’t have to use “that” just because it’s restrictive! That’s a new American heresy, and it’s pretty frankly stupid when you look at the English corpus, where you see restrictive “which” used by plenty of well-respected authors. Use whatever your ear tells you to use.
    – tchrist
    Commented May 1, 2012 at 23:55
  • Here’s an ngram, and here’s a book search. I’m sure you can come up with a lot more.
    – tchrist
    Commented May 2, 2012 at 1:47
  • @tchrist, can you please give a couple of examples and references? I have some books on my desk that will back me up on preferring that over which for restrictive (or essential) clauses, but I'd like to see your examples. Thank you.
    – JLG
    Commented May 2, 2012 at 2:07
  • Again, this is a relatively new shibboleth that’s mostly only in America, not in Greater Anglophonia. It’s bogus. Did you not chase my book search? “The interpretations of the thingness of the thing which, predominant in the course of Western thought, have long become self-evident and are now in everyday use, may be reduced to three.” “That which the senses perceive is only the thing which has shape... Were the thing which has shape identical with the shape...” There are lots more where that came from.
    – tchrist
    Commented May 2, 2012 at 2:13
  • @tchrist, do you have a reference book or grammar website you could refer me to? I found several books that say to use that for restrictive clauses and which for nonrestrictive, but I'm afraid they're all heretical American books, though not all that new: Strunk and White's "The Elements of Style" (p. 59; c 1959), Bernstein's "The Careful Writer" (p. 444; c 1965), Cook's "Line by Line" (p.198; c 1985), "The Associated Press Stylebook" (p. 74, c 1975), and Callihan's "Grammar for Journalists" (p. 117; c 1969). (original copyright dates cited)
    – JLG
    Commented May 2, 2012 at 2:34

Who sounds wrong, which sounds better, that sounds best.

  • What do you mean with the word "sounds"? Perhaps do 'sounds' and 'grammatical' have the same meaning?
    – user19148
    Commented May 1, 2012 at 21:30
  • yeah -- by "sounds" I mean grammaticality..
    – Brad
    Commented May 1, 2012 at 21:33
  • Horse people seem to like to use who with their horses. Can’t say why. I guess they’re closer to them.
    – tchrist
    Commented May 2, 2012 at 1:31
  • That sounds like a blanket statement (which it really is).
    – Kris
    Commented May 2, 2012 at 5:15
  • @Kris Which statement sounds like a blanket statement? Commented Jan 3, 2013 at 22:26

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