The English language can be confusing for non-native speakers and students. Grammarly offers a way to clear up commonly confused words.
One of the most confusing grammatical issues is which vs. that. This article will explain the difference between these two relative pronouns. Also, you’ll learn some helpful mnemonic devices to remember which is restrictive and which is nonrestrictive.
Which is Restrictive
Some people claim that ‘which’ can be used in place of ‘that’ only if the clause is essential to the meaning of the noun it modifies. However, a number of grammar experts have criticized this “which rule” as a pseudo-rule that muddles meaning and may cause confusion for the unwary.
Generally, the word ‘which’ introduces nonrestrictive clauses (also called nonessential or nondefining clauses), which don’t limit the meaning of their noun antecedents and can be removed without changing the sentence’s overall sense. These clauses should be set off with commas.
For example, my blue bucket has apples in it, which is what I want. In this case, removing the clause would ruin the sentence’s meaning. The bucket is essential to the meaning of the noun, so it must take the relative pronoun that. A comma is needed before and after the clause. Nonrestrictive clauses are sometimes used to present extra information about a noun, which is why they should be set off with commas.
Which is Nonrestrictive
The difference between which and that can trip up even the most seasoned writer. It is important to understand when to use these words, especially in clauses. Clauses are words or phrases that rank grammatically below sentences and provide crucial clarifying information about the noun they modify. Restrictive clauses limit the meaning of the noun they modify, while nonrestrictive clauses add extra information that doesn’t restrict the noun’s meaning. It is helpful to remember that which should introduce nonrestrictive clauses and that should introduce restrictive clauses.
To remember which is nonrestrictive, think of the paper that a sandwich comes wrapped in. Nonrestrictive clauses add removable information that can be removed from the sentence without changing its meaning. Nonrestrictive clauses are like a silk scarf—you may want to wear one, but you can go out in public without it.
Which is Defining
Grammar can be tricky, especially with some of the more confusing words like which vs. what. These words may look similar and can be used in different kinds of clauses, but the differences between them are crucial for strong writing. Using which and what appropriately can save you from misunderstandings and confusion.
Using these two words correctly can make your sentences clearer and more concise. While which is generally used in defining relative clauses, it can also be used to introduce nonrestrictive clauses. These clauses contain extra information about the noun they describe but are not essential to the sentence’s meaning, and they are usually set off by commas. Stacy’s truck, which is painted red, has a dent in its back bumper. Paul’s favorite cafe, which serves excellent coffee and paninis, is in Memphis. The second sentence implies that Stacy owns multiple trucks, but removing the word which makes it more clear that the specific red truck has the dent.
Which is Questionable
Grammarly is a great tool for any writer, as it helps correct grammatical errors like misused words, capitalization, and punctuation. It also has an option to create a personal dictionary, which can be used in place of the official one.
However, when it comes to the use of “which” and “that,” the commas are not always required. This is because “which” is used to introduce nonrestrictive clauses, while “that” is used to introduce restrictive clauses.
Using the word “which” in a nonrestrictive clause will help you avoid repetition. This is because using “that” in a nonrestrictive clause can sound repetitive. For example, saying “What happened during the war?” could come off as being redundant with the statement “That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Both phrases mean the same thing, so avoiding repetition by using “which” is the best way to go. Especially in formal writing.