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From a story about Wright brothers.
Wilbur tried first, but in an unfortunate start the engine stopped during the take-off. They tossed a coin to see ( ) would try next, an honor which Orville won.

Question: Fill in the blank ( with the right single word)

The answer, according to my book, is 'who'. But isn't 'which' also possible? If not, why not?
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Taka, is the following sentence acceptable to you?

"Taka which is asking the question, wants to know why "which" is not used to refer to a person."
In my humble opinion, 'which' in my question is not a relative pronoun to refer a person.

(Are you really a native speaker of English, may I ask?)
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Hi Taka,

'Who' is the appropriate word, because the coin toss will go to either Orville, the person, or Wilbur, the person.

I believe Dehbaash was atemtping to show, by purposely writing it incorrectly, how wrong it sounds to use 'which' when referring to a person.
davkett,

because the coin toss will go to either Orville, the person, or Wilbur, the person.

Right. And consider this example.

It's either Eric or Bill, but I don't know which.

'Which' is used to refer to either person, and this kind of usage is quite natural, isn't it?
(I knew you would have some idea of an exception in mind, Taka.)

Yes, it's natural. 'Which', in your example, is a compression of 'which individual it is' = 'who it is'.

'It's either Eric or Bill, but I don't know which [individual it is].'

'They tossed a coin to see (which individual) would try next.'

Explaining the grammatical rule will fall to our specialists. Wait for them.
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Presumably only the two brothers would have been party to the decision. So the natural question would have been: "So, who goes next, Wilbur?" – which might be reported as:

1. We tossed a coin to see who would go next.

On the other hand, what if the question was 'which of us goes next'? Then it might well be reported as:

2. We tossed a coin to see which (of us) would go next.

Or perhaps some spectators were discussing it at a safe distance. "Well, that wasn't very impressive. Hang on a minute, though – it looks like they're having another go. Which do you think will go up this time?" Which might be reported as:

3. They tossed a coin to see which would go up next.

'Which', to my ears, conveys more of a sense of 'twoness'. But I'd agree that #1 seems best, in the circumstances.

MrP
MrP,

Thank you for the reply. But I'm a bit confused.

You said:
'Which', to my ears, conveys more of a sense of 'twoness'.


But you said:
Presumably only the two brothers would have been party to the decision. So the natural question would have been: "So, who goes next...

Why is 'who' natural for only the two brothers??
Hello Taka

Sorry, it wasn't very clear.

If a spectator (not one of the brothers) says 'who's going next?', there is a faint sense of 'openness': 'who (among those assembled here) is going next?'. Another spectator might answer, jokingly, "Haven't you heard? It's your turn next!"

Whereas if a spectator says 'which (one) is going next?', there's a presumption of 'restrictedness': to understand 'which', we already need to know the possible choices. The joke is no longer possible.

If the brothers are talking to each other, on the other hand, Wilbur can say 'which of us is going next?', because then the choice ('of us') is explicit. But he can't say simply 'which is going next?', because 'which' on its own would imply that the speaker is not included in the possible choices. So he has to use 'who'.

Or to put it another way: 'which' on its own seems to restrict the choice and exclude the speaker from that choice, in this context; while 'who' can mean 'any who'.

(I suspect I may have made it more complicated than it needs to be.)

MrP
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