Web Blog of Connie Vines, author or multi-genre fiction. Awards: H.O.L.T. Medallion (Honoring Outstanding Literary Talent), Orange Rose, Award of Excellence--Contemporary Romance; Independent eBook Award, Dream Realm Award. National Book Award and Frankfurt Book Award, nominee--YA Historical Fiction. Blog includes guest bloggers and snippets of WIP.
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
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.
it is: 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.
Our office, which has two lunchrooms, is located in Cincinnati.
Our office that has two lunchrooms is located in Cincinnati.
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.
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.
look at another example:
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.
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 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).
that you’ve learned the rule, let’s put it to a test:
1. The iPad (which/that) connects to the iCloud was created by
2. The issue of Writer’s Digest (which/that) has Brian A. Klems’ picture on the
cover is my favorite.
correct answers are:
1. The iPad, which
connects to the iCloud, was created by Apple. (All iPads connect to the
iCloud, so it’s unnecessary information.)
2. The issue of Writer’s
Digestthat has Brian A. Klems picture on the cover is my favorite.
(Your favorite issue of Writer’s Digest isn’t just any issue, it’s the
one with me on the cover.)
so I’ve never been on the cover of Writer’s Digest, but that doesn’t
change the fact that it’s necessary for you to understand the context of your
clauses, a key covered in most grammar books. If the information is essential, use that. If it’s just
additional information that’s useful but unnecessary, use which.