Posted by: Idioma Extra | May 6, 2010

Thursday’s Tidbit


Which or That?

From www.getitwriteonline.com

While both which and that can be used in other constructions, the confusion usually arises when they are being used as relative pronouns to introduce adjective (or relative) clauses. In the examples below, we have bracketed the adjective clauses. (Remember that a clause is simply a group of words containing a subject and a verb):

1. Our house [that has a red door and green shutters] needs painting.
2. Our house, [which has a red door and green shutters], needs painting.
3. The classrooms [that were painted over the summer] are bright and cheerful.
4. The classrooms, [which were painted over the summer], are bright and cheerful.

In all four cases, the adjective clause tells us something about either the house or the classrooms, but the choice of which or that changes the way we should read each sentence.

In the first sentence, the use of that suggests that we own more than one house and therefore must explain to you that we are talking about a particular house of ours–the one with a red door and green shutters. We cannot leave out that adjective clause because it is essential to your understanding of the sentence; that is, you wouldn’t know which one of our houses needs the paint job without that adjective clause.

The second sentence tells you that we own only one house and we are simply telling you–in case you want to know–that it happens to have a red door and green shutters. We could leave out the information in that adjective clause and the sentence would still make sense.

The third sentence, because it uses that to launch its adjective clause, tells us that only SOME of the classrooms were painted over the summer. If we omitted the clause “that were painted over the summer,” we would be left with “The classrooms are bright and cheerful,” a statement that would not be accurate since it would imply that ALL the classrooms are bright and cheerful. In this sentence, therefore, the adjective clause is essential to the meaning of the sentence.

We call the adjective clauses in sentences one and three restrictive because they restrict–or limit–the meaning of the nouns they modify. In the case of sentence three, they tell us that we are talking ONLY about the classrooms that were painted over the summer–not the others.

The which clause in the fourth sentence is what we call a nonessential–or nonrestrictive–clause. Since that sentence intends to tell us that ALL the classrooms were painted, the information in the adjective clause is not essential. The sentence would be clear even if the clause were omitted.

The rule of thumb, then, is that which clauses are nonrestrictive (nonessential) while that clauses are restrictive (essential). Nonrestrictive clauses and phrases are set off from the rest of a sentence by a pair of commas (as in our examples above) or by a single comma if they come at the end of the sentence. (Example: “I took a vacation day on my birthday, which happened to fall on a Monday this year.”)

Test Yourself!

Which pronoun–which or that–belongs in each blank below?

1. Mark gave Rebecca a study guide for material ________ was going to be on the test.
2. Mark gave Rebecca notes from chapters 3 through 7 _________ were going to be on the test.
3. Robert and Jessica took their children on every vacation _________ they took to the coast.
4. The teachers gave awards to all paintings ________ showed originality.

Answers from Last Tidbit

1. All planning activities will resume when the DHEC infrastructure director and the director of the Division of Water Safety are fully on board.
2. The roles of the director of training and the training coordinator will continue to be vital as we begin our intensive planning.
3. “Participants will learn how to take tests, fill out job applications, and tackle tough job interviews,” said Judy Lewis, district superintendent.
4. Regional School Health Coordinator Brian Wilson will work with DHEC regional community development specialists.


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