Saturday 4 May 2013

Which Vs. That.

     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 thatwhichwhosewho, 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 whichwhosewho, 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.

copyright, Diane Mae Robinson, 2013
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  1. I feel a bit ahamed. Here I write almost everyday, reviewing books, and have never heard of a restrictive relative clause. I use "that" and "which" all the time but have never thought about relatives. I usually go with the one the sound correct, or better to my ears.

    I have dealt with many restrictive relatives, just never on paper.

    I need to read this again to get it straight. You really do have a way of expressing this stuff, making it easier to understand - even if it is the first time I have heard of the clause.

  2. Grammar was never one of my favorite things to learn. The rules always seemed so complicated and that is why I like to break them down more simply for others.

    I am glad you are enjoying the simplistic explanations I have for these grammar rule.

  3. You should / could write a grammar book for writers. Call it "The Simplistic Grammarian." Or is it grammartarian? My online correction says no, but I'll leave it to you. Are you a rian or a tarian?

  4. I think I'll go with grammarian with just a splash of tarian.