Understanding the distinction between “that” and “which” is crucial to improve English grammar. While both words serve as relative pronouns, they have different functions in sentences. “That” is commonly used in restrictive clauses, providing essential information that defines or identifies the noun it refers to. On the other hand, “which” is frequently found in non-restrictive clauses, offering additional, non-essential information about the noun. This small but significant difference impacts the meaning and structure of sentences. Let’s read more about That vs Which!
Basic Definitions of “That” and “Which”
In simple terms, “that” and “which” are words we use to talk about things or give more information about them. Here’s what each word means:
1. That: We use “that” to talk about something specific or to give essential information about a noun. It helps us define or identify the noun. For example, “The book that I’m reading is very interesting.” In this sentence, “that” tells us which book the speaker is referring to.
2. Which: We use “which” to give extra information about a noun, but this information is not necessary for understanding the main idea of the sentence. It provides additional details that are interesting or helpful but not essential. For example, “I bought a new dress, which is blue.” Here, “which” gives us more information about the dress being blue, but it doesn’t change the main point of the sentence.
Usage Differences between “That” and “Which”
We need to understand how to use “that” and “which” correctly in sentences. Here are the main differences:
Restrictive vs Non-restrictive Clauses:
- “That” is used in restrictive clauses. These clauses provide essential information that is necessary to understand the meaning of the sentence. For example, “The car that I want to buy is red.” Here, the clause “that I want to buy” restricts the specific car the speaker is referring to.
- “Which” is used in non-restrictive clauses. These clauses provide additional information that is not essential to the main point of the sentence. For example, “My car, which is red, is parked outside.” Here, the clause “which is red” adds extra information about the car but doesn’t restrict its identity.
Essential vs Non-essential Information:
- “That” introduces information that is necessary for the sentence’s meaning and cannot be omitted without changing the intended message.
- “Which” introduces information that is interesting or helpful but not necessary for the sentence’s core meaning. It can be omitted without altering the main idea.
That vs Which Examples
Let’s explore some simple examples to understand how “that” and “which” are used:
Sentence: “I want to buy the car that is parked outside.”
Explanation: In this sentence, “that is parked outside” is a restrictive clause. It tells us which specific car the speaker wants to buy. Without this information, the meaning of the sentence would be incomplete.
Sentence: “The book that I’m reading is very interesting.”
Explanation: Here, “that I’m reading” provides essential information about the book. It specifies which book the speaker finds interesting. Without this detail, the sentence would lack clarity.
Sentence: “The dress that she wore to the party looked beautiful.”
Explanation: In this sentence, “that she wore to the party” is a subjective judgment. It indicates the specific dress the speaker is referring to. Using “that” suggests that the speaker considers the dress as the most notable or relevant one.
Sentence: “This is the project proposal that we discussed in the meeting.”
Explanation: In more formal contexts, such as business or academic writing, “that” is commonly used. In this sentence, “that we discussed in the meeting” specifies which project proposal is being referred to, providing important information.
Sentence: “I bought a new dress, which is blue.”
Explanation: In this sentence, “which is blue” is a non-restrictive clause. It provides additional information about the dress being blue, but it doesn’t change the main point of the sentence, which is about buying a new dress.
Sentence: “I visited Paris, which is known for its beautiful architecture.”
Explanation: Here, “which is known for its beautiful architecture” adds extra information about Paris. This information is interesting and helps provide more context, but it is not necessary for understanding that the speaker visited Paris.
Sentence: “She made a delicious cake, which everyone loved.”
Explanation: In this sentence, “which everyone loved” expresses a subjective judgment about the cake. It adds the information that everyone enjoyed it, but it doesn’t define the cake or restrict its identity.
Sentence: “I went to the beach, which was fun!”
Explanation: “Which” is commonly used in informal contexts, such as spoken language or casual writing. In this sentence, “which was fun” adds an informal tone and expresses the speaker’s personal experience of finding the beach enjoyable.
Summary in a Table
Here’s a table summarizing the key differences between “that” and “which”:
|Usage||Restrictive clauses||Non-restrictive clauses|
|Essential Information||Provides necessary details||Provides additional details|
|Omission||Cannot be omitted||Can be omitted|
|Subjective Judgment||Less subjective||More subjective|
|Formality||Used in formal and informal contexts||Often used in informal contexts|
|Examples||The car that I want to buy||I bought a new dress, which is blue|
Exercises to Practice
1. The movie __________ I watched yesterday was amazing.
2. She bought a new phone __________ has a great camera.
3. This is the book __________ I recommended to you.
4. The dog __________ was barking all night finally stopped.
5. He visited his grandparents’ house, __________ is located in the countryside.
6. I need the keys __________ are on the kitchen counter.
7. The dress __________ she wore to the party looked stunning.
8. The car __________ he is driving belongs to his brother.
9. The picture __________ hangs on the wall is a family portrait.
10. They adopted a puppy __________ is playful and energetic.
11. The laptop __________ I bought last week is very fast.
12. She showed me a beautiful necklace __________ was made of silver.
13. The movie __________ we watched last night was a comedy.
14. The house __________ they are planning to buy is near the beach.
15. I saw a shooting star, __________ was a rare sight.
16. The restaurant __________ we went to last night had delicious food.
17. He repaired the bicycle __________ was damaged.
18. The book __________ I borrowed from the library is a bestseller.
19. The cat __________ is sitting on the windowsill is mine.
20. The computer __________ she uses for work is brand new.
21. The teacher explained the concept __________ confused many students.
22. We visited the museum, __________ displayed ancient artifacts.
23. He showed me a picture of his new car, __________ was red.
24. The company announced a new product __________ will be released next month.
25. The restaurant __________ we had dinner at had excellent service.
26. The gift __________ she received was a surprise.
27. He bought a camera __________ can capture high-quality images.
28. The song __________ she sang won the competition.
29. The path __________ leads to the beach is scenic.
30. They visited the city __________ is known for its historical landmarks.
- Emphatic Pronoun
- Reciprocal Pronoun
- Indefinite Pronoun
- Relative Pronoun
- Interrogative Pronoun
- Demonstrative Pronoun
- Distributive Pronoun
Some online resources:
- Difference Between Which and That – Unacademy
- Use of relative pronouns (Which vs that vs Who) – YET: Your English Tutor
- Stop Making Mistakes with Relative Clauses! [Which & That] – mmmEnglish
- “That” vs. “Which”: When Do You Use Each? | Dictionary.com
- “Which” vs. “That”: How to Choose – grammarly.com
- Which vs. That: Correct Usage | Merriam-Webster