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  1. #1
    Sun is offline Newbie
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    Default When to use 'that' and 'which'

    I need information on the approapriate usage of that and which.
    thanks in advance
    Suneethi

  2. #2
    Clark is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: When to use 'that' and 'which'

    In some contexts they are interchangeable:
    e.g. I have the book (that / which) you need.
    'That' is more informal.
    However, I put these two relative pronouns in brackets because they can be omitted, and the sentence would sound even better without them.

    There are contexts where 'which' is used as a conjunctive pronoun. It has a syntactical function and can neither be replaced by 'that' nor removed.
    e.g. I don't know which of them is good. ('which' is a subject in the subordinate clause)

    Finally, there are sentence patterns where 'which' refers not to one word in the principal clause (like we had in the example 'I have the book which you need') but to the whole clause.
    e.g. He's lost the game, which makes him feel sad.
    In such sentences you need a comma before 'which'.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: When to use 'that' and 'which'

    "I have the book that you need."
    "I have a first edition of the book, which I suspect is no longer available."


    What you need to keep in mind is the idea of restrictive versus non-restrictive clauses, which translates to "necessary" versus "helpful but non-essential."
    In the first sentence, the speaker is referring to a very specific book - 'the one that you need" out of all the books he may have. We are therefore restricting, from all the titles of books in the world, our attention down to just one. - Yes, you have books, but is it the one I need? The extra information is 'necesssary.'
    Compare the second sentence:
    The clause beginning 'which' is non-restrictive and adds some extra interesting information ...but it is not necessary to identify the book: we know it's a first edition. The second clause adds that possibily all first editions are no longer available through commercial channels.

    NOTE: no comma is used with 'that', but the subordinate clause is separated with a comma when we use 'which'.

    In a sentence such as "The company that invented the microchip we use invited us to a demonstration," the word "that" is relative to "company." There are thousands of companies in the world, but it is important to know the "company that invented the microchip" is specifically the one holding the demonstration. In that sense, the relative clause beginning with 'that' would be considered restrictive, since it is an essential piece of information that identifies the company. You would not write "The company which invented the microchip invited us to a demonstration." in formal writing.

    'Which' could be used in a similar sentence constructed this way: "Widgets Incorporated, which invented the microchip we use, has officially declared bankruptcy." In this sentence, the relative clause 'which invented the microchip we use' is separated by commas. The information about the microchip is useful, but not essential to the main idea of the sentence. It could be removed and the sentence would still make sense. If the relative clause can be removed without changing the sentence's meaning, it would be considered non-restrictive.

    "The storage building that once stood on the corner has collapsed," would be correct, since the relative clause 'that once stood on the corner' is restrictive and essential. The information about the building's location is essential, so it would need a restrictive clause beginning with "that." A correct sentence using "which" would read like this: "The Olsen building, which stood on the corner of 12th and Vine Streets, has been torn down." The sentence could still be understood without the non-restrictive clause beginning with 'which'.

    In short, whenever the information is essential to identifying the subject, the proper pronoun to use is 'that'. If the information is not essential, or can be set apart with commas, then the pronoun 'which' is more likely to be correct.
    If the meaning of the sentence would be lost without the information, then it is most likely restrictive and 'that' would be the proper pronoun to use.

  4. #4
    Clark is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: When to use 'that' and 'which'

    Thank you, David. Very elaborate explanation!
    However, there are a few things I'd like discuss.

    1. I don't think the term 'restrictive' is adequate here. Look at the following sentence.

    I have a book you might be interested in. (1)

    By your classification the clause would be restrictive. But the indefinite article with the noun 'book' doesn't go well with the idea of restriction. In the theory of articles this type of attributive clause is called descriptive (as opposed to limiting which motivates the use of the definite article, e.g. I have the book you need). So the term 'restrictive' is somewhat confusing.
    In grammars they suggest the opposition of defining vs. non-defining clauses to distinguish between (2) and (3):

    (2) I have the book you need. / I have a book you might be interested in.

    and

    (3) This book, which cost me $500, is on the shelf.


    2. I believe 'which' is absolutely correct in a defining clause, like:

    (4) The company which invented this microchip has invited us to the conference.

    And you yourself confirm it by your further example about the Olsen building.

    To sum it up, we have to realize that in the analysis of attributive clauses we deal with two types of opposition -
    a) defining vs. non-defining;
    b) descriptive vs. limiting

  5. #5
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    Default Re: When to use 'that' and 'which'

    Hi all

    Agreed, the term 'restrictive' is near its ends and considered somewhat out-dated today given the leaps and bounds of linguistic analyses these past few years, but nevertheless the term is still in use today, as the term 'defining' hasn't yet caught on entirely. Students should know both terms, especially the distinction Clark has provided here for us: descriptive vs limiting.

    Clark would you elaborate some on how that distinction is related to (i) comma usage, and (ii) that vs which?


  6. #6
    Clark is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: When to use 'that' and 'which'

    Hi Soup,
    Thanks for support. She-she.:)

    1. Defining clause.
    a) Limiting attribute:This is the book (which/that) I bought yesterday.
    b) Descriptive attribute: This is a book (which/that) everybody should read.

    As you can see, in a defining clause, whether the attribute is limiting or descriptive is irrelevant to punctuation.

    2. Non-defining clause
    The attribute does not affect the referential status of the antecedent, therefore we can't classify it in terms of limiting or descriptive. Consequently, the choice of article does not depend upon the attribute. And it's logical, since the attribute can be removed.

    a) Last year she bought a house, which turned out to be a shabby old hut.
    b) The house, which cost her a fortune, turned out to be a shabby old hut.

    Which vs. that
    In non-defining clauses - only 'which'.
    In defining clause - both. 'Which' is considered to be formal, as far as I know.
    Last edited by Clark; 01-May-2008 at 19:59.

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    Default Re: When to use 'that' and 'which'

    1. I indicated to suneethi that in books, he may find them referred to as ‘restrictive’ versus, ‘non-restrictiive’; but if it’s easier to think of as ‘necessary’ versus ‘not necessary but interesting extra fact’, ..If others find it easier to separate the ideas as ‘defining’ versus’ non-defining’, I have no vested interested that I would take either exception or umbrage.

    2. I believe 'which' is absolutely correct in a defining clause, like:

    (4) The company which invented this microchip has invited us to the conference.

    And you yourself confirm it by your further example about the Olsen building.


    You give no reasoning behind these assertions for me to be able to concur or disagree with you.

    Clark - you awrite:
    1. Defining clause.
    a) Limiting attribute:This is the book (which/that) I bought yesterday.
    b) Descriptive attribute: This is a book (which/that) everybody should read.


    "This is the book that I bought yesterday." 'that' because it 'defines' a particular book
    I would use 'which' in this sentence if the context was. "Remember the combined DVD and book release of Gone with the Wind I was telling you about? This is the book, which I bought yesterday."

    This is a book (which/that) everybody should read.
    Look at the two versions of it:
    "This is a book that everyone should read." use of 'that' as defining the particular book.
    versus
    "This is a book (which I think) everybody should read."
    colloquially rendered as :"This is a book which everybody should read."
    Thus, it could be either, depending on your perspective. In the second version, "Which I think" is not really 'necessary'

    I have to confess I find your style of addressing issues very sweeping, so that I cannot follow your reasoning in order to stand corrected, or be able to discern exactly why we are disagreeing. For example, I gave an example to show a point. Referring to it, you state:
    I believe 'which' is absolutely correct in a defining clause, like "The company which invented this microchip has invited us to the conference." And you yourself confirm it by your further example about the Olsen building."
    How did I do so? All this may be crystal clear in your mind, but not to us struggling readers.
    Last edited by David L.; 02-May-2008 at 06:00.

  8. #8
    Clark is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: When to use 'that' and 'which'

    [quote
    2. I believe 'which' is absolutely correct in a defining clause, like:

    (4) The company which invented this microchip has invited us to the conference.

    And you yourself confirm it by your further example about the Olsen building.


    You give no reasoning behind these assertions for me to be able to concur or disagree with you.[/quote]

    (1) I meant to say that 'which' as a relative pronoun in a defining clause is 100% standard. It may just give a formal flavour to a sentence.
    (2) My reference to your example about the Olsen building was irrelevant, and I withdraw this statement.

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