Sunday, September 16, 2007

Quickie Post: That Versus Which

There are some grammar rules that are difficult to remember. One of those governs whether you use “that” or “which” in a sentence. I regularly mistake them as I tend to think of “which” as more formal. It isn't.

That and which have similar meanings but they are used for two different things. “That” tells you the object of a clause. “Which” tells you about the preceding noun or clause. Thus:

The pancakes that I made this morning tasted great. (“That” answers the question of which pancakes, as there are many.)

The pancakes, which I made this morning, tasted great. (“Which” gives me more information about the pancakes such as how long ago they were made and by whom.)

“Which”, however, has that confusing second meaning as used above. It indicates a choice. That use does not require a comma. When you use it to describe something or give more information about it, you are creating a dependent clause and need to set it off with commas (or some other punctuation, depending on where it lands in the sentence).