• Maria P Frino

Which or That. When Should These Words be Used?

There are many writing rules, which many writers like breaking. This is fine because without breaking rules then every author's writing would be too similar.

However, there is one that I find annoying if it happens too often. The words which or that are commonly used in business, novels and blog writing, actually all types of writing. The problem is many writers do use the wrong one, or only use the one word every time. I have found many business documents are written using these two words incorrectly. They are used with non-defining and defining clauses. What does this mean?


Well, if you think of the word which as being disposable and the sentence still makes sense, then use it. For example - I went for a walk when it was cloudy, which was stupid because it rained while I was out. If you write - I went for a walk when it was cloudy, that was stupid because it rained while I was out. See the difference? I would rewrite the second sentence into two - I went for a walk when it was cloudy. That was stupid because it rained while I was out.


Now, back to the first sentence - if you take out the word which, it will still make sense. I went for a walk when it was cloudy, I was stupid because it rained while I was out. If you are still unsure, read your sentences out loud.



One way I find it easier to remember writing rules is to write them down in a journal. The action of physically writing it down helps jog your memory when you come across writing conundrums. Try to remember too, that defining clauses give necessary information to the reader. Such as - The dog ate our dog's food. You don't know which dog. But in this sentence - The dog who lives next door ate our dog's food. This second sentence has a defining clause - 'who lives next door' so now the reader knows which dog.


Examples of how which or that would be used in these two sentences are -


The dog ate our dog's food, which is the second time he has done this.


The dog who lives next door ate our dog's food, which is the second time he has done this.


The dog that lives next door ate our dog's food.


The dog who lives next door ate our dog's food and that is the second time he has done this.


You may not think this rule is one you need to know, but when you read as many documents as I do, believe me, it becomes annoying when it happens often. In our times of social media, acronyms and fast flash fiction, it is easy to forget writing rules. Some are essential to good flow and good stories. Is there a rule that confounds you? Let me know in the comments.


Happy reading and writing everyone.


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