Wednesday #Writetip: Choosing Between ‘That’ and ‘Which’
What’s the difference between “that” and “which”? Both words can be used to set off dependent clauses, so how do you know which one to choose?
In some cases and in some publications, the words can be used interchangeably. However, most book publishers make the following distinction:
-Use “that” to set off restrictive clauses
-Use “which” to set off nonrestrictive clauses.
A clause is restrictive if it identifies a specific object: The dog that bit me lives down the street.
A clause is nonrestrictive if it adds description only: The dog, which has thick fur and blue eyes, was easy to identify.
If you aren’t sure which pronoun to choose, try reading the sentence without the part enclosed in commas. If no meaning is lost, then you know you have a “which” (nonrestrictive) clause. If you are left wondering what this person could possibly mean, you know it must be “that” (restrictive).
Some writers don’t think it is worth their time to learn rules like this one. But for those who do take the time, details like this can save editing time and cost.
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