[DISCLAIMER: My grammar advice is trustworthy for American English. Not so much if you’re in the UK. Please keep that in mind.]
Edited February 5, 2015 – Added reference to source of British usage rule.
The words “That” and “Which” are two of the most confusing words writers come face-to-face with every day.
Some of you are familiar with a grammar tip I share on Twitter:
That/Which: ‘That’ should introduce a restrictive clause (necessary for meaning). ‘Which’ is for non-restrictive (parentheticals)”
When limited to 150 characters, the whole “that vs. which” thing can seem somewhat cryptic. What the heck is a restrictive clause? What do I mean by “Parentheticals”? I think a couple of quick examples will make it easier to understand.
Wait! What About People?
The guy who drives the Impala was here yesterday.
The phrase “who drives the Impala” is identifying. Without it we have no idea which “guy” the speaker is talking about! Therefore we’re dealing with a restrictive clause.
Mr Smith, who drives the Impala, was here yesterday.
The phrase “who drives the Impala”, in this case, is non-identifying, and therefore non-restrictive. The reference to the Impala is nothing more than additional information. The subject has already been identified specifically as “Mr. Smith”. Also…look at those beautiful commas![Edit: 2/5/2015] I’d like to thank “Ben Morris tweeting” for the following reference. Those of you curious about the British English usage should definitely check this out.
@NatRusso Interesting, but see Fowler for that/which in English English http://t.co/9dmG8yFwCr 🙂
— Ben Morris tweeting (@benmtwt) February 5, 2015
What are some of the more confusing word usages you struggle with every day? Let me know in the comments below!
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About Nat Russo
Nat Russo is the Amazon #1 Bestselling Fantasy author of Necromancer Awakening and Necromancer Falling. Nat was born in New York, raised in Arizona, and has lived just about everywhere in-between. He’s gone from pizza maker, to radio DJ, to Catholic seminarian (in a Benedictine monastery, of all places), to police officer, to software engineer. His career has taken him from central Texas to central Germany, where he worked as a defense contractor for Northrop Grumman. He's spent most of his adult life developing software, playing video games, running a Cub Scout den, gaining/losing weight, and listening to every kind of music under the sun. Along the way he managed to earn a degree in Philosophy and a black belt in Tang Soo Do. He currently makes his home in central Texas with his wife, teenager, mischievous beagle, and goofy boxador.
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Thanks for the tip. It was very helpful!!!
Glad to be of help La Fleur!
Isn’t LaFleur head of security in Dharmaville?
When I check my blog stories on Word “that and which” are often highlighted. Word offers me better word choices or suggests I replace one with the other. Thanks for this grammar tip. Hopefully I will make the correct choice and Word will pick on me for something else.
Carol, have you heard of Scrivener? I had used Word exclusively for many years, and about a year ago I was turned on to Scrivener by some writer friends on Twitter. There’s a small learning curve associated with it, but I don’t think I’d ever go back to Word. It really is a “one stop shop” for writers. They have two versions, one for Windows and the other for Mac. Definitely worth looking into!
I’m definitely a Scrivener convert, though still learning the programme to get the best from it.
Thanks for the tip, Nat. Based on your suggestion, I’ve started using Scrivener to help construct technical articles and lecture notes. Even though those documents aren’t terribly long, usually three to five pages, they are very information dense. Scrivener helps with ordering the flow of topics and managing the wealth of source material required.
Scrivener was a game-changer for me, and I’ve just barely cracked the surface of its feature set. I don’t run a Mac OS at home yet, so I’m still using the Windows version. I’m looking forward to the day the versions reach feature parity, but until then the Windows version is lagging behind a bit (though I think most of the differences are purely cosmetic).
I’ve also recently begun to use Scrivener, which (!) I have found incredibly helpful for organizing my writing. The learning curve is not steep and well worth it. By the way, you can convert anything you write in Scrivener to a Word document.
Thanks Nat. I will look into it. Word is certainly restrictive…to borrow your word from your piece. Appreciate the reply.
Oh man! How did I miss the opportunity to use that pun! I’m losing my touch in my old age 🙂
I know. I was quite pleased with myself. Like that you noticed.
Made it to your blog from your tweets and it is really useful – so many blogs are a good effort but ‘meh’. Thanks Nat! Look forward to more. 🙂
I appreciate it, Jacqueline! I’m hoping to document my “lessons learned” as I go through the process so that other aspiring writers can avoid some of the pitfalls I fell into.
LOL. So “Barking Cats” is jrjaxster on Twitter is Jacqueline in ‘real life’. Just sayin’.
Welcome aboard! 🙂
Stop, grammer time!!! Priceless 😀
Definitely dating myself 🙂
Thanks, Nat. I was pondering this very point yesterday so your advice is timely 🙂
Glad to help 🙂
Hey Nat, I am so glad I came across your site, very helpful. Its been a very long time since I have been in school, if I remember correctly, english and grammar were not one of my strong points.LOL This never really bothered me much until 8 months ago when I decided to start blogging.
I believe your site is like a mini gold pot for writing illiterates like me.
I’m so glad I could be of help! If you ever have any questions, please feel free to contact me here or on Twitter/Facebook!
Enjoyed it! Give us more!
When I tried to explain this to a colleague recently, my examples were awful. Think I will borrow yours next time.
Borrow away, Linda! 🙂
‘That’ introduces essentiality, ‘which’ non-essentiality.
Both are used with things.
‘The bus that fell over the bridge was his.’
‘The bus that fell over the bridge, which was only bought a week earlier, was his.
Nice examples and explanation
Great lesson. I remember that or which by: “I don’t need a which.” -or nonrestrictive.
How I remember this rule: I don’t need witches.