1. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    That or Which

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by OurJud, Aug 22, 2009.

    In the following sentence, would 'that' or 'which' be the correct word to use and why?

    'I recently read a poem that was beautiful'

    'I recently read a poem which was beautiful'

    I know it would make far more sense to say 'I read a beautiful poem recently', but entertain me anyway.
     
  2. The-Joker
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    The-Joker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Go with your gut feeling.

    Gut feeling------------> I recently read a poem that was beautiful.
     
  3. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, that is the one I went with, Joker, but are saying both are correct?
     
  4. JoeMusings
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    JoeMusings Member

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    I've had English teachers who have told me "that" and "which" are completely interchangeable. Others, however, say you should use "that" when signifying an essential clause, and "which" when signifying a non-essential one. Personally, I think it all comes down to style and personal preference.
     
  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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  6. JoeMusings
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    JoeMusings Member

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  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    that some writers may have used them interchangeably does not make it correct...

    and what are you referring to in orwell's works?
     
  8. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I think this is one of those things where modern usage has made them completely interchangeable even though that wasn't originally the case, and the people who make the rules (whoever they are) just haven't caught up yet. Just another case of the past trying to maintain control over the present.

    Edit: I guess they're not always interchangeable, there are obviously certain places where only each one can be used, but I think if you are able to use either then it doesn't really matter.
     
  9. JoeMusings
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    JoeMusings Member

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    Take for example the first chapter of Orwell's classic novel 1984:

    "It was one of those pictures which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move."

    "Inside the flat a fruity voice was reading out a list of figures which had something to do with the production of pig-iron. The voice came from an oblong metal plaque like a dulled mirror which formed part of the surface of the right-hand wall."

    "He moved over to the window: a smallish, frail figure, the meagreness of his body merely emphasized by the blue overalls which were the uniform of the party."

    "...he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded..."

    "He had set his features into the expression of quiet optimism which it was advisable to wear when facing the telescreen."

    "He was aware that there was no food in the kitchen except a hunk of dark-coloured bread which had got to be saved for tomorrow's breakfast."

    "Apart from very short notes, it was usual to dictate everything into the speakwrite which was of course impossible for his present purpose."

    "It was because of the atmosphere of hockey-fields and cold baths and community hikes and general clean-mindedness which she managed to carry about with her."

    "Once when they passed in the corridor she gave him a quick sidelong glance which seemed to pierce right into him and for a moment had filled him with black terror."

    "He had a trick of resettling his spectacles on his nose which was curiously disarming -- in some indefinable way, curiously civilized."

    "...the rage that one felt was an abstract, undirected emotion which could be switched from one object to another like the flame of a blowlamp."

    "...when two strangers met, a small movement of the hand which had looked as though it might be a signal of recognition."​

    Note that many professional English writers do not distinguish between that and which. Orwell is just an easy example, because he frequently uses complex sentences.

    The following can be found on www.wsu.edu:

    "I must confess that I do not myself observe the distinction between 'that' and 'which.' Furthermore, there is little evidence that this distinction is or has ever been regularly made in past centuries by careful writers of English."​

    This is from the American Heritage Book of English Usage:

    "Some people extend the rule and insist that, just as that should be used only in restrictive clauses, which should be used only in nonrestrictive clauses.... This use of which with restrictive clauses is very common, even in edited prose. If you fail to follow the rule in this point, you have plenty of company. Moreover, there are some situations in which which is preferable to that..."​

    The following is from EnglishPlus.com:

    "Some teachers also tell you that that should be used with restrictive modifiers and that which should be used with nonrestrictive modifiers. Historically, there is little evidence that this 'rule' ever had a significant effect on English expression, but writers should be aware that some correspondents have been taught this practice."​

    Even conservative grammarians admit the topic is controversial. The following is from Grammar Girl:

    "If you're confused about that versus which, don't feel bad. It's one of the most common topics people ask me about. I used to work as a technical writer, and I'd often edit documents in which people used the wrong word. More than once, I'd put in the right word, only to have clients change a perfectly fine that to a which and send it back to me. In fact, having a client try to overrule my correction of a which to a that was one of the things that pushed me over the edge and made me start the Grammar Girl podcast."​

    Like I said, it comes down to personal preference and style. True, to satisfy everyone (including conservative grammarians) you should follow their archaic rules. But you don't have to. The average reader doesn't care.
     
  10. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    and that's a shame, as it contributes to reducing 'the writer's art' to the amateur's paradise... but serious writers should care, imo!

    to continue such downward slides into mediocrity and worse will have to lead, i'm afraid, to future books being written as torturously inane twitter text...
     
  11. JoeMusings
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    What I meant is that the average reader doesn't care about the debate.

    As I have shown, there has been no historical precedent which makes that and which distinguishable. Many professional writers interchangeably use that and which. These writers are not wrong, and they are not damaging the art of writing. They choose simply not to follow an archaic rule which, again, has no historical precedent.
     
  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    if it reads well and makes sense to the readers and if the editor who has to okay it has no problem with it, then it's a non-issue, imo, right or wrong, rules or no rules...
     
  13. SlickBeast
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    SlickBeast New Member

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    They are basically interchangeable as someone pointed out...but with a slight distinction. Use "that" when the modifier ("is beautiful" in your case) is indepensable and without which the sentence seems incomplete; if the modifier is only additional information the reader can very well do away, then use "which", but set it with a comma.

    "That" is correct.
     
  14. SlickBeast
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    SlickBeast New Member

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    Knowing the correct usage of "that" or "which" is not what differentiate an amateur from a professional or good fiction writings from mediocre ones...knowing when to bend the rules to make your work more appealing to the audience is.
     
  15. JoeMusings
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    JoeMusings Member

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    *pounds head against wall*

    There is no such rule to bend.
     
  16. SlickBeast
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    SlickBeast New Member

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    So grammar and vobucalary of putative writing manuals and dictionaries respectively are to be ignored according to you? Yes, there are rules and standards to follow, although they are not set in stone!
     
  17. JoeMusings
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    Above, I listed many reputable sources that stated there was no historical precedent for distinguishing between that and which. Many professional writers do not make a distinction. Again, the rule is archaic.

    Some say it is grammatically wrong to end a sentence with a preposition. Some say it is grammatically wrong to begin a sentence with a coordinating conjunction. Did these rules once exist? Probably. But virtually no one follows them today. Similarly, the distinction between that and which may have existed long ago. But there is no reason to use the rule today.
     

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