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That, Which: Part I

How to Conduct a Successful Witch-hunt for That Which

by Owen Fourie

To be involved in a witch-hunt is to look for people who have beliefs and practices that are regarded as dangerous to a society.

Historically, when such people were found, they were punished severely. Many were executed.

The witch-hunt in this article has nothing to do with such extremes. It has to do with rooting out the incorrect use of the relative pronouns which and that.

Which witch?

You have obviously seen the homophones, witch and which, in the title. Let’s dismiss this point quickly to get to the which-that problem.

Confusion of these homophones should not happen if you remember that some people are terrified of a witch. There is a t in witch. Let it stand for terrified. You do not need to be terrified of which, because it doesn’t have a t.

Eliminating the terror

Yet, there does appear to be some terror here, too, especially when there seems to be a choice between using which or using that. Let’s eliminate this fear.

To do so, we need to understand the terms restrictive and nonrestrictive.

Restrictive

  • You are writing a sentence.
  • Your sentence includes information about something.
  • Your information is essential for identifying or defining your subject.
  • You must use that to introduce this vital information.
  • You must not place a comma before that.
  • You are restricting your subject to what is stated in this information. Without this information, the identity or state of your subject will be unclear.

Here are some examples:

  • Services that are essential for our wellbeing need additional manpower. (Without the that clause, the particular services needing additional manpower remain unidentified.);
  • The email that was sent by Miller & Levine on Monday was read only on Thursday. (Without the that clause, the particular email that should have been read much earlier remains unidentified.);
  • The class that I like most of all is biology. (Without the that clause, the statement will not make much sense.)

Nonrestrictive

  • You are writing a sentence.
  • Your sentence includes information about something.
  • Your information is NOT essential for identifying or defining your subject. It is simply an addition. Something nice to know, perhaps.
  • You must use which to introduce this nonessential information.
  • You must place a comma before which and at the end of the clause it introduces.
  • You are NOT restricting your subject to what is stated in this information. Without this information, the identity or state of your subject will still be clear.

Here are some examples:

  • Thatville, which is a small town, has nine fire engines! (Without the which clause, the town is still identified simply by its name. The detail of its being small is not essential.);
  • Route 101, which is the shorter way to Thatville, is closed. (Without the which clause, the route is still identified simply by its number. The detail of its being the shorter way is not essential.);
  • The biology text by Miller & Levine, which is student-friendly, is preferred by many teachers. (Without the which clause, the biology text is still identified by the names of its authors. The detail of its being student-friendly is nice to know, but it is not the essential information in this statement.)

There is another point about these relative pronouns that we’ll leave for the next post.

It is hoped that that which you have learned here will help you in your writing.

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If there are any points about that and which that still puzzle you, please ask here for clarification. Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome.

Here are more articles to help you with English words, grammar, and essay writing.

Copyright © 2012 by English Essay Writing Tips www.englishessaywritingtips.com


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