Nietzsche’s famous quote serves as the lead-in for this week’s topic – when to use that vs. which.
Both “that” and “which” are used with types of clauses. Determining the type of clause will help you know when to use “that” or “which.”
There are two types of clauses to look at here – restrictive and non-restrictive. A restrictive clause gives essential information about the preceding noun and will change the meaning of a sentence if it is removed. A non-restrictive clause gives non-essential information (also referred to as an appositive, or an interruption or side note in a sentence).
To keep this simple – use “that” when you are introducing a restrictive clause.
Example: “The coat that I wear to work every day has become completely threadbare.”
Use “which” with a non-restrictive clause.
Example: “The coat that I wear to work every day has become completely threadbare, which means I need to buy a new coat.”
Punctuation Note: Which is usually preceded by a comma since it is introducing a non-restrictive clause.
“That” = necessary to the meaning of the sentence
“Which” = expendable – nice detail, but not critical to the meaning
Think you’ve got it down? Take the fun little online quiz I found!
Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.