Which vs.

That - Grammar Rules

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Which vs. That
By: Brian A. Klems | August 7, 2012







Q: I’ve been writing for a long time and always assumed which and that
were interchangeable, but I’ve recently been told that isn’t the case. How
do I make sure I’m using the right word? —Anonymous
The battle over whether to use which or that is one many people struggle
to get right. It’s a popular grammar question and most folks want a quick
rule of thumb so they can get it right.


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If the sentence doesn’t need the clause that the word in question is
connecting, use which. If it does, use that. (Pretty easy to remember, isn’t it?) Let me explain with a
couple of examples.

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Our office, which has two lunchrooms, is located in Cincinnati.
Our office that has two lunchrooms is located in Cincinnati.

These sentences are not the same. The first sentence tells us that you have just one office, and it’s
located in Cincinnati. The clause which has two lunchrooms gives us additional information, but it
doesn’t change the meaning of the sentence. Remove the clause and the location of our one office
would still be clear: Our office is located in Cincinnati.
The second sentence suggests that we have multiple offices, but the office with two lunchrooms is
located in Cincinnati. The phrase that has two lunchrooms is known as a restrictive clause because
another part of the sentence (our office) depends on it. You can’t remove that clause without changing
the meaning of the sentence.
Let’s look at another example:

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The time machine, which looked like a telephone booth, concerned Bill and Ted.
The time machine that looked like a telephone booth concerned Bill and Ted.

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In the first sentence (thanks to the use of which), the time machine concerned Bill and Ted. It also
happened to look like a telephone booth. In the second sentence (which uses the restrictive clause),
Bill and Ted are concerned with the time machine that looks like a telephone booth. They aren’t

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2. Klems’ picture on the cover is my favorite. Laid) DID YOU LOVE THIS ARTICLE? SUBSCRIBE TODAY & SAVE 58% Name http://www. Klems picture on the cover is my favorite. 2015) 3 Rules on Writing About Your Family Lay vs. tools. The iPad (which/that) connects to the iCloud was created by Apple. Lie (vs. let’s put it to a test: $316. use that. so it’s unnecessary information. a key covered in most grammar books. There are only so many times I can beg her to do it.com. was created by Apple.) Writing the Mystery Novel Writing the Romance Novel 2. it’s the one with me on the cover. Laid) 7 Reasons Writing a Book Makes You a Badass Should You Include Word Counts in a Magazine Query? How to Write the Perfect Query Letter How to Prepare for NaNoWriMo: To Outline or Not To Outline              ATEGORIES C Brian Klems' The Writer's Dig TAGS Brian Klems. which connects to the iCloud.) Business Writing Turning Personal Stories into Memoir Writing the Picture Book OK. but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s necessary for you to understand the context of your clauses.writersdigest. contact WD editor Jessica Strawser at writersdigest@fwmedia. The correct answers are: BUY NOW! WRITING WORKSHOPS STARTING JULY 16TH Getting Started in Writing 1.com/online-editor/which-vs-that[17/07/2015 5:10:50 PM] City Character Development: Creating Memorable Characters View All Online Writing Workshops . That .Grammar Rules With advice. (Insert smiley face here. this bundle will walk . so I’ve never been on the cover of Writer’s Digest. and hands-on exercises from bestselling authors and agents.98 1.. The iPad.Which vs. (All iPads connect to the iCloud. And if you’d like to see me on the cover. The issue of Writer’s Digest (which/that) has Brian A. Now that you’ve learned the rule. The issue of Writer’s Digest that has Brian A. If it’s just additional information that’s useful but unnecessary.) ************ Follow me on Twitter: @BrianKlems Read my parent humor blog: The Life Of Dad Sign up for my free weekly eNewsletter: WD Newsletter   You might also like: Lay vs. Lie (vs. concerned with the one that looks like a garden shed or the one that looks like a DeLorean (Marty McFly may have reservations about that one). use which..94 $49. (Your favorite issue of Writer’s Digest isn’t just any issue. online editor blog RELATED POSTS The Secret To A Stronger Nonfction Book Proposal 5 Writing Challenges All Writers Face (& How to Deal With Them) 4 Reasons You Should Attend the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference (July 31 – Aug 2. If the information is essential.

SJ_Mitchell wrote. if one were being overly pedantic. was white” or “The dog that bit the man was white” if you like. leaving out both that and which. That is. 2012 at 6:07 pm I have a simple sentence for this problem. so thanks for that. it was a white dog and it happened to bite the man. or ‘whom. which bit the man. as opposed to that. With regard to whether queerbec’s example should read ‘the man that’.Grammar Rules Email Address State/Province Address 1 Zip Select Select Address 2 Submit You might also like: No Related Posts 15 thoughts on “Which vs. 2012 at 12:45 pm Can you do an article on when to use “lie” and “lay” ? EX>. Am I wrong? Laura Log in to Reply ↓ JohnA August 9. as the dictionary definition of the correct use of which. “The dog. read: the man about whom they were talking. That” brownj April 17. was white” means there was one dog. is that it is used to introduce a clause giving ADDITIONAL information.writersdigest. “The dog which bit the man was white” means that of the several dogs on the premises. “The dog. use that. You can say. and formal. Log in to Reply ↓ http://www. Brian. “he lay there unconcious” or “he lie there unconcious” …. 2015 at 7:18 pm This goes to show that the UK and the US are two nations divided by a common language! We (in the UK) don’t have a rule about when to use that or which. that bit the man. “If you have to ask which one. 2012 at 9:20 am The commas make all the difference.Which vs. it should. your article nicely explains how to increase my strike rate above 50% when writing for a US audience. in fact. Log in to Reply ↓ Ardent Muse September 19. That . the clause between the commas. 2012 at 7:09 pm Brian. they were talking about'. “…The examples which you provide…” I would have written that sentence as “The examples you provide…”.” Log in to Reply ↓ Laura August 12.com/online-editor/which-vs-that[17/07/2015 5:10:50 PM] . the one that bit the man was the white one. ??? Log in to Reply ↓ Docloren September 8.

When you have useful but unnecessary information. although I recall having it drilled into me that you use “who” when referring to people and “that” when referring to inanimate objects. Log in to Reply ↓ queerbec August 7. you do need ‘which’. Is ‘that’ truly incorrect here? Log in to Reply ↓ creativemetaphor August 8. 2012 at 8:37 pm C’mon. Both these words are pronouns (of one kind or another. but the difference in meaning in your examples is being created only by the presence of the commas. 2012 at 11:38 am Really nice and brief explanation. when the information is necessary to understand the context of the clauses. if commas are indeed used (in both sentence pairs). Remove those commas. I would side with “who/whom” when discussing a person – such as “the people who spoke up” – but in this case it’s just a baggage word. and sometimes to persons”. in which case should it read “That that does not kill us…”? http://www. “The man they were talking about.’ queerbec. depending on who’s leading). the grammar gurus offer so many shortcuts that the actual meanings have been obliterated. that has two lunchrooms. 2012 at 6:31 pm Next Brian please do an explanation for “that” and “who. As for “that” and “which”. was very informative. 2012 at 4:59 pm This article. 2012 at 10:00 am Sorry to be pedantic. But what about ‘that which’? That which does not kill us makes us stronger. and ‘which’ and ‘that’ are interchangeable.g.Grammar Rules Aikta Srivastava August 8. Brian.writersdigest. In fact. I am even more in awe of those who pretend to know the “right answers to grammar questions”. Thanks! Log in to Reply ↓ rogerlordzeck August 8. E.com/online-editor/which-vs-that[17/07/2015 5:10:50 PM] . is in Cincinnati.Which vs. use commas before and after the clause. Log in to Reply ↓ grammaranarchist August 7. you’d need to write ‘the man whom they were talking about’ to adhere to grammar @ rules. which contained many examples. owever. Where is the sense in that? I am always in awe of people who claim to know the “right answers”. That . It’s a necessary part of the sentence. But I guess that now has changed. but it still sounds awkward. Log in to Reply ↓ creativemetaphor August 7. the examples used in this article back up my guideline for using commas and have little or nothing to do with “that” and “which”.” There’s really no need in this sentence to add “that” or “whom” or “which” or need to distinguish between any of them grammatically. Using ‘that’ H would be incorrect. ‘Our office. 2012 at 11:06 am Re: “the man that they were talking about” – ‘that’ may not be incorrect but it’s entirely unnecessary. I’d say the examples that were provided were essential for understanding. do not use commas. I’ve even see the simple explanation that says “‘which’ refers to animals and inanimate things” and “‘that’ refers to animals and things.” What follows is my choice among the many gurus who pretend. My response to grammar questions usually begins: “Here is the answer I prefer. Just leave it out.” I cringe when I see references to “the man that they were talking about” or “the people that spoke up” But Bill Gates seems to have made it legal to use “that” in such contexts.

2012 at 11:34 am Great way to explain it. and more Enhance Your Writing Career Save on Writers Digest Subscriptions http://www.just a observation from an old-timer who went to school when grammar and N spelling were still in the curriculum.Which vs.Grammar Rules Log in to Reply ↓ karin August 7. Hope that clears things up. “The issue of Writer’s Digest that has Brian A. Thanx Bob Log in to Reply ↓ SJ_Mitchell August 7. we were taught there was always a better word to use than “that. the sentence. GOOGLE LINKS SPONSORED LINKS FEATURED LINKS Advance your career in just 90 minutes heck out a live or OnDemand webinar from WD! C The Best Writing Instruction on the Web New workshops start weekly. ms k Log in to Reply ↓ Brian A. othing personal . 2012 at 4:17 pm Actually at United Press International (UPI) where I worked for years. Brian Online Editor Log in to Reply ↓ brillpro August 7. my decades as a writer/editor and my experienced ear make me cringe at the use of “that” in all of the examples. . .writersdigest. 2012 at 4:52 pm I concur with Bob. The examples which you provide in this article are…*ahem*…all that! Log in to Reply ↓ COMMENT You must be logged in to post a comment. Klems picture on the cover is my favorite” would read much better as “The issue of Writer’s Digest with the cover picture of Brian A.com/online-editor/which-vs-that[17/07/2015 5:10:50 PM] . Klems Post author August 7.” This would tighten the sentence and avoid the use of a possessive. My training in English and Journalism. 2012 at 4:59 pm Thanks for your comment! It’s certainly possible to rewrite and shorten these example sentences. but the point of this exercise is to explain the differences in “which” and “that” for those who want to know the usage rule (and choose to use it). . publishers. Klems is my favorite. The rule was never use “that” and find a better word for it. Thanks again for the note and for reading.” We were specifically never allowed to use it although many did. Additionally. as well as eliminating “that” altogether. That . View the course schedule now Get paid for Your Writing Find over 7000 agents.

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