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That vs. Which

Last week’s grammar tip focused on the rules for using who vs. that. This week, we will learn the rules to guide us on when to use that vs. which.

Rule 1: That may refer to people, animals, groups, or things. (As mentioned last week, who is preferred when referring to people.)

Rule 2: Which refers to animals, groups, or things.

Since that and which may each refer to animals, groups, or things, how do we know when to use that and when to use which?

Rule 3: That introduces essential clauses while which introduces nonessential clauses.

Example: I do not trust editorials that claim racial differences in intelligence.
We would not know which editorials were being discussed without the that clause.

Example: The editorial claiming racial differences in intelligence, which appeared in the Sunday newspaper, upset me.
The editorial is already identified. Therefore, which begins a nonessential clause.

NOTE: Essential clauses do not have commas surrounding them, while nonessential clauses are surrounded by commas.

Example: Chess is a game that requires intense concentration.
The second part of the sentence is essential for conveying the meaning of the sentence.

Rule 4: If this, that, these, or those has already introduced an essential clause, you may use which to introduce the next clause, whether it is essential or nonessential.

Example: Those responses to the questions, which were not well thought out, eliminated him from further job consideration.

Rule 5: Try not to use that twice in a row in a sentence.

Example: That is a problem that can’t be solved without a calculator.
This sentence would be better written as: That is a problem which can’t be solved without a calculator.
The best way to write the sentence would be: That problem can’t be solved without a calculator.

Example: That is a promise that cannot be broken.
Again, the above sentence could be rewritten as: That is a promise which cannot be broken.
The best way to rewrite it would be: That promise cannot be broken.

Rule 6: Whenever you have more than one that or which in a sentence, see if you can rewrite it in a way that removes at least one that or which.

 

Pop Quiz
Choose whether that or which is correct for each sentence. Then determine whether the sentence should contain commas. If so, place the commas in the correct location in the sentence.
1. Hannah is on the team that/which won the county softball championship.
2. The Fairview Hawks softball team that/which my daughter played on won the county softball championship.
3.  The Golden Gate Bridge that/which was completed in 1937 is considered by many to be the most beautiful bridge in the world.
4. The bridge that/which connects the city of San Francisco with Marin County was completed in 1937.
5. That rooster that/which crows every morning at dawn is going to drive me crazy.
6. That is a point that/which is worth considering.

 

Quiz Answers
1. Hannah is on the team that won the county softball championship.
2. The Fairview Hawks softball team, which my daughter played on, won the county softball championship.
3. The Golden Gate Bridge, which was completed in 1937, is considered by many to be the most beautiful bridge in the world.
4. The bridge that connects the city of San Francisco with Marin County was completed in 1937.
5. That rooster, which crows every morning at dawn, is going to drive me crazy.
6. That is a point which is worth considering. (“That is a point that is worth considering” is also acceptable, but the best answer is either “That point is worth considering.” OR “That is a point worth considering.”)

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Posted on Monday, October 29, 2012, at 2:58 pm


Who vs. That

In a recent newsletter, I corrected myself after some readers wrote in saying the word that should have been who in the sentence “There’s not one mother I know that would allow her child to cross that street alone.” However, it got me thinking more about this topic, so I dug a little deeper into what some of the leading English usage reference books such as The Chicago Manual of Style, The Associated Press Stylebook, and various dictionaries have to say on the matter. It turns out the majority of these references allow the use of the word that to refer to people. While I am not personally a proponent of this usage, I think it’s a good time to revisit the rules for who vs. that.

Rule: Who refers to people. That may refer to people, animals, groups, or things, but who is preferred when referring to people.

Example: Anya is the one who rescued the bird.
NOTE: While Anya is the one that rescued the bird is also correct, who is preferred.

Example: Lope is on the team that won first place.

Example: She belongs to an organization that specializes in saving endangered species.
NOTE: While teams and organizations are composed of people, they are considered groups. However, this matter is not always clear-cut. Consider this sentence: “Several of the university’s scientists who/that favored the new policy attended the meeting.” Which is correct, who or that? Does “university’s scientists” seem more like individual people than a group? In cases like this, you may use your own judgment.

You may be asking whether there are any rules guiding when to use the word that and when to use the word which. The answer is yes. That introduces essential clauses and which introduces nonessential clauses. This topic is explored more thoroughly in the grammar tip entitled “That vs. Which.”

 

Pop Quiz
1. Was it Marguerite who/that organized the surprise party for Johann?
2. Kepler is the scientist who/that proposed the laws of planetary motion.
3. I do not want to go on any amusement park rides who/that involve sudden drops.
4. Oliver is the president of the association who/that nurses injured wild animals back to health.
5. Most of the members of the board who/that voted against the motion to change the bylaws were present at the meeting.

 

Pop Quiz Answers
1. Was it Marguerite who organized the surprise party for Johann? (That is also acceptable, but who is preferred.)
2. Kepler is the scientist who proposed the laws of planetary motion. (That is also acceptable, but who is preferred.)
3. I do not want to go on any amusement park rides that involve sudden drops.
4. Oliver is the president of the association that nurses injured wild animals back to health.
5. Most of the members of the board who voted against the motion to change the bylaws were present at the meeting. (That is also acceptable, but who is preferred since individual members of the board are being emphasized.)

To comment on this grammar tip, click on the title.

Posted on Monday, October 29, 2012, at 2:49 pm