Some students have trouble understanding when to use “what” and “that” in a sentence. These tips will help you choose the right word.
Use What when you are describing ideas, qualities and things, but not when referring to people or animals.
Correct: I didn’t know what tasks she wanted me to do for the new advertising campaign.
(= the things she wanted)
Correct: She had very good suggestions for what to do about creating new jobs (= ideas)
Correct: What do you think the artist was trying to say in this painting (= ideas, qualities)
Incorrect: He is the man what I mentioned yesterday. (use the relative pronoun who)
Incorrect: The lion what was shot by the hunter was a national symbol of Zimbabwe.
Use That when you are referring to people, animals, ideas, qualities and things.
Correct: The professor said that our grades would depend on our participation in class
and our two essay assignments. (= things that are counted in the grade)
Incorrect: The city employee that helped me find my family’s birth records is sitting at the
information desk. (use who, referring to a specific person)