That and Which
Date: Fri, 11 Jun 93 18:58:38 PDT
Subject: That and Which
[Daniel thinks this is really boring, but I must admit it's been a particular
passion of mine ever since the first version of Writer's WorkBench threw out
all my "which"s. So here's a boring little article _that_ will help you know
_which_ to use... -psl]
From: dss@Eng.Sun.COM (Daniel Steinberg)
well, this is really boring, but i'm cleaning house and thought i'd
pass this along...
From: hamilton@artemis (Mary "Hacksaw" Hamilton)
Do you often wonder when to use "which" and when to use "that"? My
favorite explanation of this issue is by Theodore M. Bernstein, in
_The Careful Writer_.
That and Which
It is natural, it is normal, to say, "This is a car that can go,"
or "It's the kind of book that I like," or "Oatsies are a breakfast
food that peps you up." Yet although the relative pronoun _that_
is natural to _say_ in such constructions, it does not always seem
to be natural to _write_. There are writers who have the notion that
the relative _that_ is colloquial (which it is in the sense that it is
natural in spoken language), whereas the relative _which_ is literary.
That is a mistaken idea. Jespersen has put his finger on one cause of
the error: "_Who_ and _which_ reminded scholars of the Latin pronouns
and came to be looked upon as more refined or dignified than the more
popular _that_." To this day there are those who seem to feel that
_which_ is more stately.
Fowler has identified another cause of the error: "It is a fact that the
proportion of _thats_ to _whichs_ is far higher in speech than in writing;
but the reason is not that the spoken _thats_ are properly converted into
written _whichs_, but that the kind of clause properly begun with _which_
is rare in speech with its short detached sentences, but very common in the
more complex & continuous structure of writing, while the kind properly begun
with _that_ is equally necessary in both.".
What kinds of clauses are "properly" begun with _that_ and what kinds with
_which_? _That_ is better used to introduce a limiting or defining clause,
_which_ to introduce a nondefining or parenthetical clause. Getting away
from the grammatical jargon, we might take this as a guide: If the clause
could be omitted without leaving the noun it modifies incomplete, or
without materially altering the sense of what is being said--or if it
could reasonably be enclosed in parentheses--it would be better introduced
by _which_; otherwise, by _that_. For example: "The Hudson River, which
flows west of Manhattan, is muddy." (A nondefining clause; it could be
omitted or parenthesized.) But: "The river that flows west of Manhattan
is the Hudson." (The clause defines "river" and could not be omitted.)
... (text omitted concerns clarity of meaning)
Let it be noted that there are two exceptions to the use of _that_ to
introduce a defining clause. One is a situation in which the demonstrative
_that_ and the relative _that_ come together, as in this sentence: "The
latent opposition to rearming Germany is as strong as that that has found
public expression." Idiom dictates making it _that which_. The second
exception is a situation in which the relative follows a preposition: for
example, _of which_, not _of that_.
A final note should mention the point--usually the only point--about these
relative pronouns that Miss Thistlebottom taught you in elementary school:
_Which_ normally refers to things, _who_ to persons, and _that_ to either
persons or things. The point is elementary and needs no elaboration.
P.S. I don't know who Jesperson is, do you?
[Otto Jespersen was a Danish philologist which died in the '40s. -psl]
© 1993 Peter Langston