A grammatical Q about one of my own thread titles

I mean this thread: Who was the first rock act to apply Jamaican music?

It’s about the interrogative. After posting that thread, I soon felt that it’s wrong and it should have been “What”. I must’ve though that a “rock act” is a person, but in fact it’s rather a concept, an abstract thing. You know, my native language is German, and the rules for interrogatives are quite different because of the genders, so I’m still not sure. It’s bugging me, so please help me out.

I don’t know what the official answer is, but to this native English speaker, both “Who was…” and “What was…” sound just fine to me. (Although, saying “Who was…” opens you up to smart-alecky answers about Pete Townshend’s band.) The only thing that’s a teensy bit off is the “to apply Jamaican music” part, since I’d normally talk about applying something to something.

Well, to my defense, I had an implied “…to their music” in mind.

I think I would have used either “Who were …” (a rock act is people, but may be several people), or “Which was …” (although I do not have a good case to make against “What was…”).

But as Thudlow Boink says, by far the most awkward part of your title was the use of “apply”. I think what you really meant was “be influenced by”, but if you wanted to avoid being so wordy you could just have used “use”.

With all that said, it is not as though your original title was horribly bad. It was a little awkward, but so are lots of the titles used here, thanks to teh tight space constraints and the impossibility of revising titles after posting (not to mention mere carelessness). It never occurred to me that it might have been written by someone who wasn’t a native English speaker.

To me, “what” would be used if you were asking about a specific performance. But “who” is legitimate for both an individual person and a group of people. Example: If the question is “Who made that law?”, you could answer by giving the name of the legislative body.

Personally, I’d have written something like, “Which rock act was the first to really use Jamaican music?” but your formulation sounds fine to me.

I would say ‘whom’. But it really doesn’t matter.