Monday, October 9, 2023


"That" or "Which"? Navigating the Nuances in English Writing

The distinction between "that" and "which" is subtle, yet knowing when to use one over the other can be pivotal in ensuring your writing is clear and grammatically sound. Both words can introduce relative clauses, but they serve different functions and are used in distinct contexts. Let's delve into the rules and nuances of using "that" and "which."

Defining the Terms

  1. "That" introduces a restrictive clause (or essential clause). This type of clause provides information that is essential to the meaning of the sentence. If you remove it, the main point of the sentence changes.

    Without the clause "that hangs in the hallway," we wouldn’t know which painting the sentence refers to. The clause is essential to understand the sentence's meaning.

  2. Example: The painting that hangs in the hallway is a priceless artifact.

  3. "Which" introduces a non-restrictive clause (or non-essential clause). This type of clause offers additional information that, if removed, does not alter the primary meaning of the sentence.

  4. Example: The painting, which was gifted by a famous artist, is a priceless artifact.

    The information "which was gifted by a famous artist" is additional and isn't essential to understanding the primary point about the painting's value.

  5. These clauses are usually set off by commas.

Tips to Remember

  1. Commas are Key: If the clause is surrounded by commas, or if you could easily add them, "which" is often the right choice.

  2. Essential vs. Non-Essential: If the information is vital for understanding the sentence, use "that." If it’s just additional information, use "which."

  3. Avoid "Which" at the Beginning: In American English, it's less common to start a sentence with a "which" clause, though British English is more flexible on this point.

Exercises for Distinguishing "That" and "Which"

Fill in the blanks with either "that" or "which," based on the context:

  1. The car ___ is parked in the driveway needs a wash.
  2. My garden, ___ I tend to every weekend, is flourishing.
  3. The books ___ have a red sticker are on sale.
  4. The conference, ___ was held in the main hall, was a huge success.
  5. I dislike movies ___ have too much violence.
  6. The old tree, ___ stands at the center of the park, is over 100 years old.
  7. She wore the dress ___ she bought last week to the party.
  8. Our team won the match, ___ was quite unexpected.
  9. The phone ___ has a cracked screen is mine.
  10. The new policy, ___ was implemented last month, is already showing positive results.
  11. All the cupcakes ___ have chocolate chips are for the kids.
  12. The museum, ___ is located downtown, is free on Sundays.
  13. The dog ___ barks all night keeps me awake.
  14. My laptop, ___ I use for work, is very fast.
  15. We visited the church ___ is on the hill.


  1. 1. that, 2. which, 3. that, 4. which, 5. that, 6. which, 7. that, 8. which, 9. that, 10. which, 11. that, 12. which, 13. that, 14. which, 15. that.


The choice between "that" and "which" might seem trivial, but it plays a significant role in clarifying your sentences. By understanding their different contexts and functions, you can ensure your writing remains clear and precise. As with many aspects of English grammar, practice makes perfect. Use the exercises above to hone your skills, and soon the distinction will become second nature.