Is it "a company who..." or "a company that..."?

What pronoun should you use when referring to a company?

Mignon Fogarty
4-minute read
Episode #351

Can a Book “Say” Something?

As a final aside, this topic reminded me of another question about an inanimate object taking action that has come up a few times over the years. On occasion, someone will complain that a book can’t say anything.

For example, if I write that the AP Stylebook says you should refer to a company as “it,” I’ll get someone responding that books don’t speak; therefore, I should write that the book states that you should refer to a company as “it” rather than the book says such a thing.

It’s actually a pretty logical statement, but English is not such a logical language. I couldn’t find this question addressed in the style guides I typically check, but the Oxford English Dictionary is unusually clear. I often find that the OED doesn’t cover usage questions, but the entry for the verb “say” specifically addresses whether the word can be used for situations other than speaking, and the OED says it can, both in a little note in the “signification” section at the beginning of the entry and in one of the definitions. For example, the OED gives this quotation from Faulkner’s book As I Lay Dying: The clock said twenty past twelve. (1)

So there you have it! Companies are just legal entities and should be referred to as such, using pronouns like “that” and “it.” If you want to use “who” or “they,” refer to the people doing the company’s work.


1. “say, v.1” Oxford English Dictionary, online version. December 2012. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/171590 (accessed January 10, 2013).


About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show.

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