One of the most commonly abused rules in the English language relates to the proper use of “who” and “that.” You will frequently find these words improperly interchanged in the written word and in speech.
Quiz time. Which of the following sentences use the words “who” and “that” correctly?
All four of the sentences were wrong. Here’s how they should have been written:
Here’s the rule:
Use “who” when referring to one or more individuals. Use “that” when referring to a type, class or species.
The way I remember this rule is to always use “who” when referring to an individual or group of individuals, and use “that” when referring to the group itself.
So in the first sentence, “that” is correct because the phrase “that collected men’s hearts like trophies” directly describes the group (the type of woman) itself. “She” is merely a representative of that type
The last phrase in the second sentence (“who ever resisted her”), refers to two individuals who belong to a council – not to the council itself.
The third sentence talks about individual people, so “who” is used. True, you could argue that those people form a type, class or species, but we didn’t mention a type, class or species – just people.
In the fourth sentence, the phrase “that was looked down upon by ‘cultured’ folk” refers directly to the caste and not to the boys. The boys were members of that caste. So “that” is right.
It can be a fine line. But that’s English. And that’s why people who write get paid the big bucks.