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Thread: That or Which

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    Arrow That or Which

    Hi, your site is really helpful. In the sentence, ' chemicals and other materials that/which aren't good for the environment must be properly disposed of to prevent contamination ' is it gramatically correct to use that or which?

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    Default Re: That or Which

    Yes, both are fine. 'that' is more common in North America.

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    HaraKiriBlade's Avatar
    HaraKiriBlade is offline Member
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    Default Re: That or Which

    It's something I was wondering about, too. Are they EXACTLY the same? I mean, no two words can be exactly the same in my opinion.

    Let's say I was doing a school presentation and were to say the sentence princeotc provided.

    Maybe it's too small of a difference, but would you feel any different? Would you get somewhat different impresson of the presenter if he used that over which, or vise versa?

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    mykwyner is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: That or Which

    The relative pronoun that is used to introduce restrictive relative clauses. That is, relative clauses that are essential to the meaning of the sentence. e.g. "...materials that are harmful..."

    The relative pronoun which is used to introduce non-restrictive relative clauses. That is, relative clauses that are not essential to the meaning of a sentence and are set off by commas. e.g.

    "Chemicals and other materials, which are very common, that are harmful..."

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    Default Re: That or Which

    Quote Originally Posted by HaraKiriBlade
    It's something I was wondering about, too. Are they EXACTLY the same? I mean, no two words can be exactly the same in my opinion.
    It depends. If you're a traditionalist, you're probably going to follow the traditional rules (See mykwyner's post for those rules). But according to descriptive linguistics (i.e., how speakers actually use language), speakers and writers do in fact use 'which' to begin a defining (i.e., restrictive) clause.
    For such writers, it's the comma and not the choice of relative pronoun that signals whether the clause is restrictive or non-restrictive.

    Quote Originally Posted by Wikipedia
    Some writers follow a normative rule that that should be used only in restrictive clauses and which should be used only in non-restrictive clauses. However, many writers do not adhere to this rule, and in particular, which is widely used for both types of clauses

    Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Restrictive_clause
    Quote Originally Posted by Bartleby
    Some people . . . insist that should be used only in restrictive clauses, and which should be used only in nonrestrictive clauses. By this thinking, you should avoid using which in sentences such as I need a book which will tell me all about city gardening, where the restrictive clause which will tell me all about city gardening describes what sort of book is needed. But this use of which with restrictive clauses is very common, even in edited prose. If you fail to follow the rule, you have plenty of company.

    Source: http://www.bartleby.com/64/C001/062.html
    I'm not sure why speakers use 'which' with restrictive clauses, but I think it may have something to do with its distribution elsewhere in the grammar.

    EX: It is a philosophy in which ordinary people may find solace and which many have found reason to praise.

    EX: We want to assign only that book which will be most helpful.

    In both examples, 'which' heads a restrictive clause. There isn't a comma or a pause in speech to let the reader/listener know the clause is non-restrictive.

    As for which relative pronoun is best on a school assignment, school is a 'traditional' institution, so you could follow "the rules", but if not, be prepared to defend your reasons for using 'which'.

    According to its distribution within the grammar, 'which' can indeed function either restrictively (i.e., without a comma) or non-restrictively (i.e., with a comma). But consistency is important, so if the majority of people aren't using 'which' with restrictive clauses, then that'd be a good rule of thumb to follow.

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