Posted by: episystechpubs | August 21, 2017

Editor’s Corner: That vs. Which

We recently received a request to explain the difference between that and which. Kara covered the topic previously (see Which Witch Is Which?), so now it’s my turn.

I’ll try to keep my explanation simple and won’t even mention restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses. Grammar Girl has a more detailed discussion, if you’re interested.

When you’re deciding between that and which, ask yourself what you’re describing:

· One unique thing

· All of one kind of thing

· One thing of many (or some things of many)

One Unique Thing: Which
If you’re talking about one unique thing (the Pacific Ocean, the world’s oldest tree, my only car), use a comma and the word which.

Examples:

· The Pacific Ocean, which covers a third of the earth’s surface

· The world’s oldest tree, which is located in the White Mountains of California

· My car, which needs an oil change

Everything after the word which is optional information. You can remove it without changing your meaning—there is still just one Pacific Ocean, one world’s oldest tree, and one car that belongs to me.

All of One Kind of Thing: Which

If you’re talking about all of one kind of thing (all oceans, all trees, all of Jay Leno’s cars), use a comma and the word which.

Examples:

· Oceans, which are salty

· Trees, which grow on every continent except Antarctica

· Jay Leno’s cars, which are worth more than $50 million

Again, everything after the word which is optional information. You can remove it without changing your meaning—either way, you’re talking about all oceans, all trees, and all of Jay Leno’s cars.

One Thing of Many (or Some Things of Many): That

If you’re talking about one thing of many (one ocean, one car) or some things of many (some trees), use the word that, with no comma.

Examples:

· The ocean that is farthest north

· Trees that are swaying in the summer breeze

· The car that Steve McQueen drove in Bullitt

Everything after the word that is important information. You cannot remove it without changing your meaning or creating ambiguity.

Ben Ritter | Technical Editor | Symitar®
8985 Balboa Avenue | San Diego, CA 92123
619-682-3391 | or ext. 763391 | www.Symitar.com

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