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When Should It Be 'which' And When 'that'?
Posted 28 September 2003 - 04:52 PM
Anyway, I always have a problem deciding whether to use 'which' or 'that' in a sentence. eg:
'This is a forum which/that many people like.'
Perhaps that is a bad example, but you get my drift...
This is further complicated by the suspicion that the rule might be different in the US and the UK.
So, does anyone have a simple way (emphasise: SIMPLE) to decide when to use 'which' and when to use 'that'??
Posted 28 September 2003 - 06:17 PM
Anyone know the answer? I suspect Ron may have some ideas...
Posted 28 September 2003 - 08:49 PM
That is a relative pronoun which is restrictive. This means it tells you a necessary piece of information about its antecedent. Without the part after the that the statement would make no sense.
For example... "The spreadsheet software that I use most often is Excel."
Where "spreadsheet software" is very broad and the statement after that is narrowing the field and providing additional pertinent information.
Which on the other hand is non-restrictive. Meaning it does not limit what it refers to and normally the statement would still make sense if everything after the which were left out of the sentence.
For example... "Excel is a wonderful program, which I use often."
In the above example the second part of the statement simply provides some extra information about the main subject of discussion, but doesn't limit it nor is it necessary to create the thought.
Three tricks my old English 5 teacher in high school taught me are:
1.) If you can tell what is being discussed without either a that or a which, you should probably use which.
2.) If the phrase needs a comma, you will probably use which. No comma...you'd normally go with that.
3.) Another quickie way to tell is to mentally stick the phrase "by the way" right after your which. If the sentence still makes sense then you're using the correct term. If not, then you probably need to use that.
Of course it's only been <cough> 20 </cough> or so years since I supposedly learned that. And I still don't always follow it to this day, which is a shame. :laugh:
Posted 28 September 2003 - 09:43 PM
Posted 28 September 2003 - 10:10 PM
Since we recently had a thread about conversational styles, it might be appropriate to add that Randy's explanation is the formal and historically correct one, but popular usage has changed it slightly in the last hundred years.
That is *always* used with a restrictive clause and is *never* set off with commas. That much hasn't changed. However, which, while historically used with non-restrictive clauses and always set off with commas, is now often seen in informal writing as a replacement for that. Michael Quinion has a good article on World Wide Words, with a closing paragraph that, I think, offers sound advice.
Posted 29 September 2003 - 08:03 AM
So, thank you for that. Care to explain any of the other grammar rules I don't know the names for in the meantime?
Posted 29 September 2003 - 08:18 AM
Your post, which explained the proper of use of which and that, was great!
I actually think I remember the rule now.
Posted 29 September 2003 - 10:53 AM
Most people use "which" because they want to sound more "professional." However, they usually get it wrong
Excellent tip on remembering the difference!
Posted 29 September 2003 - 02:58 PM
I'll make sure to tell Mrs. Nollkemper that her advice is still as useful today as it was way back when. I see her around town every now and then, even though she's retired. I'm sure it'll make her day... hmm... if she doesn't faint from the realization that I actually remembered something (anything!) from the late '70s.
Perhaps I should give that more thought. I'd hate to be responsible for giving her a heart attack.
Posted 29 September 2003 - 05:37 PM
Thank you Chris for the lucid explanation and thank you Ron for the update. I shall check out that 'World Wide Words' link and, more importantly, I shall save this very useful thread!
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