That or Which?

One of the most common problems I run across when editing a manuscript is the use of that versus which. Even when authors try to look it up, often the only explanation given talks about restrictive/non-restrictive intent. And almost as often that isn’t very helpful.

The next time you’re deciding on whether to use that or which, consider the following:

That restricts meaning. Example: The house that Jack lives in. That restricts the meaning to one  house.

Which elaborates (is non-restrictive). Example: The stock market, which tends to fluctuate, was down yesterday. Which elaborates (doesn’t restrict) the meaning of the stock market, but rather offers one tendency it has.

Here’s another tip regarding non-restrictive clauses. Non-restrictive clauses are interruptive (non-essential to the sentence), thus they require commas.

If we eliminated the non-restrictive clause from the which example above, the sentence would still make sense. That’s why we use commas to set it apart from the essential words in the sentence.

That or which? That decision, which every author needs to make, should come easier now.

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1 Response to “That or Which?”


  1. 1 Fay May 20, 2009 at 5:30 am

    This was most helpful to me. It has been 40 plus years since I studied grammar and punctuation so a little refresher was much appreciated.


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