Use That Which is Important

Published on 07 Dec, 2016

Generic Grammar

How do you know whether to use ‘that’ or ‘which’ in a sentence? 

Is there even a difference?

Yes, there is!

That’ takes care of that ‘which is essential’.

Which’ can replace ‘that’, ‘which is not really needed’.


Here's some help.

Usually, ‘that’ introduces a restrictive relative clause. Such a clause contains essential information about the noun preceding it.

  • From all the gifts he received, he returned the vase that was cracked.

If you leave out the restrictive clause, the sentence either becomes vague or loses its meaning.

  • From all the gifts he received, he returned the vase.

Restrictive relative clauses are usually introduced by that, as well as by whose, who, or whom.

  • From all the gifts he received, he returned the vase which was cracked.

British English often uses ‘which’ and ‘that’ interchangeably. Such a construction is not incorrect in American English, but is certainly not preferred, especially in formal writing.

Meanwhile, a nonrestrictive relative clause usually contains information that can be left out without affecting the sentence structure or meaning. Such clauses can be introduced by which, who, whose, or whom (but never that).

  • He drove the bus, which had a dirty windscreen.

Make it Easy

  • A comma precedes a nonrestrictive clause, which sets off the extra information.
  • No comma should precede a restrictive clause that has essential information.