Which Vs That – Common English Errors Explained

October 5th, 2011 by

Which Vs That

While it might not seem like too much of a big deal from the outside, learning how to use the right word when it comes to Which vs That is very important while writing for the web.

Some doubts are bound to hit you when you’re pressed for time and typing feverishly to meet your deadline, and being stumped between ‘which’ and ‘that’ during such situations can drive you up the wall, if you take pride in the quality of work that you’re sending out.

If you’re the ‘Meh, anything goes’ type, you better put your Groucho glasses on – we’re out to get you!

which vs that

For the ones who were fast asleep during grammar classes in primary school, here’s a lowdown on how to deal with the words ‘that’ and ‘which’.

You’ll often come against Restrictive Clauses and Non Restrictive Clauses while writing, and learning about these can help you gain some understanding first.

#1 – Restrictive Clauses

A restrictive clause is a part of a sentence that can’t be removed from the sentence without kicking up complications.

Cars that are small are ideal for city use.

Take the above line into consideration. Here the words ‘that are small’ cannot be removed from the sentence, as the sentence would then mean:

Cars are ideal for city use.

This statement is fundamentally wrong, as there are many types of cars that are not ideal for city use. The words ‘that are small’ make a whole lot of difference and provide meaning to the sentence, and this is the kind of situation where you need to use the word ‘that’.

The movie that Jack filmed wasn’t received well.

Here, the words ‘that Jack filmed’ specify that among all the other movies, the one that Jack filmed was not appreciated, giving the entire sentence a proper meaning.

Also, note the fact that almost no commas are used when the word ‘that’ is involved.

#2 – Non Restrictive Clauses

A non restrictive clause is a part of a sentence that can be removed without a second thought, as it does not change the meaning of the overall line in anyway.

Oxygen, which is essential for human survival, is released during photosynthesis.  

Here you can remove the part of the sentence which has been highlighted in bold, and the sentence would still make sense. This is because the words between the two commas just state the obvious (a known fact), and this is just additional information.

The word ‘which’ is often used in non restrictive clauses and a point to note here is that the word is preceded by a comma almost every single time.

The Harry Potter novels, which were meant for children, were written by JK Rowling.

Try substituting the word ‘which’ in the above sentence with ‘that’ and you’ll definitely wince at such grammatical blasphemy!

Simple Rule: When you’re providing additional information, use commas and attach a ‘which’ and when it’s extremely essential information, forget the commas and attach a ‘that’.

While there may be some special cases here and there, such basic understanding can take care of your last minute writing worries for good.

Know your skills! Click here to take the Which Vs That test!


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