This is the fifth part of the dif­fer­ence between series.

Two words com­mon­ly con­fused with each oth­er are “that” and “which”. So much so that it has become com­mon in many cir­cles to not dif­fer­en­ti­ate between the two. As a result, some peo­ple may dis­agree with my expla­na­tion. Nev­er­the­less, I offer it here for some back­ground and for any­one who con­sid­ers him­self a purist.

The dif­fer­ence between the two is “that” accom­pa­nies a restric­tive clause and “which” is used for non-restric­tive claus­es.

What’s a restric­tive clause? It’s a set of words nec­es­sary to under­stand what a per­son means. For exam­ple:

I live in the house that Jack built.

If we left out the phrase “Jack built”, the read­er may not know which house we meant. It restricts the mean­ing.

On the oth­er hand, if most read­ers were already famil­iar with the house we men­tioned, then we would use “which”.

I live in the house, which Jack built.

The phrase “I live in the house” could stand alone, but we add “Jack built” for extra infor­ma­tion.

To sum it up, if the infor­ma­tion is impor­tant to know, use “that”. Oth­er­wise, use “which”. Remem­ber though that “which” is always pre­ced­ed by a com­ma.

Let me know if you have any gram­mar ques­tions, and I’ll be sure to post the ques­tion and answer here.

About Kim Siever

I am a copy­writer and copy­ed­i­tor. I blog on writ­ing tips most­ly, but I some­times throw in my thoughts about run­ning a small busi­ness.

Fol­low me on Twit­ter at @hotpepper.

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