When to Use That vs. Which



Two months ago, I published a piece called, “What Is Clickbait? You’ll Never Believe the Actual Definition!


There was a very specific reason why I did, and you’re more than welcome to read the whole article. But it’s such a separate subject than today’s topic, we’re not even going to recap it here.



The only reason I bring it up is because of this snippet of it – a definition of clickbait, courtesy of UrbanDictionary.com:


It means what you think it means: bait for clicks. It’s a link which entices you to click on it.
The “bait” comes in many shapes and sizes, but it is usually intentionally misleading and/or crassly provocative. Clicking will inevitably cause disappointment. Clickbait is usually created for money.
One common type is adverts and spam, such as you might find on a random website or in your Facebook feed. Such clickbait usually leads to a site which tries to sell you something or possibly extort you by withholding the promised “bait.”

No offense to the person who wrote that content. But that right there is a perfect example of how “that” and “which” are not interchangeable.

I know that using “which” instead of “that” might sound smarter or more sophisticated at times. But if it doesn’t work, then it doesn’t work.


In which case, there’s nothing smart or sophisticated about it.


With that said, I’m not calling anyone stupid for mixing them up. Hardly. First off, this is a very, very, very common word choice issue to be confused about.


If it confuses you, you’re not alone.


Secondly, you’re talking to someone who used to mess up “its” and “it’s” more often than not – all the way into college. That right there is far more of a cardinal writing sin, not to mention an inexcusable one.


Yet I still have my writer’s card. In which case, I think you’re safe from losing yours as well.

I’m much better at putting “that” and “which” in their proper places than describing what their proper places are. So I’m going to turn to Grammar Girl, the queen of explaining such things, to take on this task instead.


When I try to explain restrictive clauses and non-restrictive clauses, it usually doesn’t end well. So, Grammar Girl, take it away…


A restrictive clause is just part of a sentence that you can’t get rid of because it specifically restricts some other part of the sentence. Here’s an example:
“Gems that sparkle often elicit forgiveness.”
The words “that sparkle” restrict the kind of gems you’re talking about. Without them, the meaning of the sentence would change. Without them, you’d be saying that all gems elicit forgiveness, not just the gems that sparkle. (And note that you don’t need commas around the words “that sparkle.”

Meanwhile…


A nonrestrictive clause is something that can be left off without changing the meaning of the sentence. You can think of a nonrestrictive clause as simply additional information. Here’s an example:
“Diamonds, which are expensive, often elicit forgiveness.”
Alas, in Grammar Girl’s world, diamonds are always expensive. So leaving out the words “which are expensive” doesn’t change the meaning of the sentence. (Also note that the phrase is surrounded by commas. Nonrestrictive clauses are usually surrounded by, or preceded by, commas.)

Hopefully that helps. If you need further examples or explanation though, Grammar Girl does give them. Just click the last link up above to check them out.

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