Which one is That?

rogersgeorge on September 3rd, 2009

“Which” is slightly more high-falutin’ than plain old “that,” so people, especially in business, tend to use “which” when they should use “that.” Let’s strive for clear communication, here, folks, not snootiness.

Which—are you making an aside, a remark that supplies extra (not necessary) information? Then use a comma and “which.” For example: “The steamboat, which was chugging across the harbor, capsized.” Sorry for the grim example, but it’s made up, so no one was hurt. All that “which” does is add some information about the steamboat. The sentence would have the same meaning without it. “The steamboat capsized.”

That—Are you giving extra information that’s necessary? Then you need “that.” Suppose you had several steamboats, and you need to identify the one that capsized. “The steamboat that was chugging across the harbor capsized.” No commas, either.

Bonus info: You don’t have to use commas to set off the aside. You can use parentheses or dashes. For example: “Correct use of asides (which I hope you learn) makes your writing more lucid.”

Extra bonus: If you use MS Word, and have the grammar checker turned on, it just about always gives you the correct recommendation on this one.

Maybe you can come up with better examples of this. Put them in the comments, and if you haven’t already, download my five basics over there on the right.

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Who is that?

rogersgeorge on August 30th, 2009

I see this so often in internet marketing efforts; you’d think these folks were more literate. “That” and “who” are called relative pronouns. They refer to a word that came earlier in the sentence.  (Yes, I know, they have other names in other contexts.)

who—refers to PEOPLE, people! You might say, “Will the person who got my name wrong please stand up?”

that—refers to THINGS, but not people. (I was going to use all caps instead of italic, but I don’t want to be someone who displays bad manners by shouting.) Say “Things that go bump in the night…”

You don’t refer to things who go bump in the night; don’t refer to people that do something. This rule applies to words that stand for people, too. “The teacher who teaches well…”  “The police who were on duty that night…” “The wretch who stole my pen…” I invite those of you who read this tender missive to provide your own examples in the comments.


Download that report on the right and be one of the folks who writes well.