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Wednesday, May 4, 2005

That vs. Which

Posted by on May 4 at 10:48 AM

A tiny grammar lesson to punctuate your day…

Proper use of that and which:
Both that and which function as relative pronouns but they are not always interchangeable. In American English that is used restrictively to narrow a category or identify a specific subject: With a style that is seductive and inimitable… while which is usually used nonrestrictively—it doesn’t narrow a category or point to a specific subject but instead it adds something about a subject already introduced: Art is his means of awakening from the nightmare of history, which is a strategy common to Germans of his generation.

Note that which (and the clause that follows it) is almost always preceded by a comma (or set off inside parentheses or with emdashes) while that doesn’t need the comma.

Which can be used restrictively, but then it must be preceded by a preposition, as in The room in which he cooked the cat….

Thank you for thinking about your language.