That sentence, which has 'that' in it, is confusing me. So should we use that or which in a sentence?
Illustration by Samantha Kickingbird
In British English, sometimes both are correct.
Correct: The dragon held out the paw which was hurt.
Correct: The dragon held out the paw that was hurt.
In the above sentences, that and which are introducing what’s known as a restrictive relative clause. This kind of clause contains essential information about the noun that comes before it. If you leave out this type of clause, the meaning of the sentence is affected, and it will probably not make much sense. Restrictive relative clauses can be introduced by that, which, whose, who, or whom.
The other type of relative clause is known as a non-restrictive relative clause. This kind of clause contains extra information that could be left out of the sentence without affecting the meaning of the sentence. Non-restrictive clauses can be introduced by which, whose, who, or whom, but you should never use that to introduce them. Examples:
A scroll listing all of the dragons, which live in the forest, is in the royal library.
The librarian handed her the scroll, which she took.
A non-restrictive clause is preceded by a comma to set off the extra information. A restrictive clause in not preceded by comma because the information is essential to the meaning of the sentence.
Non-restrictive clause: The dragon brought his new sword, which was still shiny.
Restrictive clause: The dragon brought the sword that was new and still shiny.
In the next two sentences, we look at the difference in the meaning of the sentences.
Non-restrictive clause: All the scrolls, which are about dragons, are in the library.
Restrictive clause: All the scrolls that are about dragons are in the library.
In the first sentence, we are saying all the scrolls are in the library. That they happen to be about dragons is extra information.
In the second sentence, we are saying that all the scrolls about dragons are in the library.
So think about what you need to say and portray in the sentences you write. Write the sentences well and everything will become much clearer for the reader.