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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.”)

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


2 Comments

2 Responses to “That vs. Which”

  1. Eric says:

    Please help. Which sentence is correct?

    This factor at first blush appears inconsistent with Treas. Reg. 31.3121, which provides that if employee status exists, the label placed by the parties on the status of the worker is not material.

    OR

    This factor at first blush appears inconsistent with the Treas. Reg. 31.3121 that provides that if employee status exists, the label placed by the parties on the status of the worker is not material.

    Thanks,

    Eric

    • Treas. Reg. 31.3121 is already identified. Therefore, which begins a nonessential clause. Also, our Rule 4b of Commas says, “Use commas to set off expressions that interrupt the sentence flow.” Therefore, we recommend setting off “at first blush.” You could also reword “not material” to “immaterial.”

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