Is It That or Which?

By Carol Ann Wilson

Most writers don't know the answer to this question. They use what "sounds best. "Lawyers and their secretaries especially have trouble with whether to use that or which. The general rule is, use that to introduce essential clauses and which to introduce nonessential clauses. Even though there are exceptions (Gregg Reference Manual § 1062), let's see if we can master the general rule before distinguishing the exceptions. Select the right word (don't peek at the answers till you're done):

1. The report (that, which) I sent last week will be of some help.

2. Her report, (that, which) was handwritten instead of typed, was a week late.

3. The printer (that, which) was ordered on Thursday had to be returned.

4. The printer, (that, which) was on sale, increased our assets by $800.

5. The form (that, which) we need for this case is # 3010.

6. The yellow car is the one (that, which) ran the light.

7. The first meeting (that, which) he needs to attend is on Monday.

8. The meeting for sysops, (that, which) he needs to attend, is on Monday.

9. The Franklin Company is the one (that, which) gives us the best service.

10. He cited two reasons (that, which) could explain the error.

Answers to That/Which Quiz:

1. that–essential to describe the particular report

2. which–nonessential to the meaning of the sentence (notice the phrase is offset by commas)

3. that–essential to describe the particular printer

4. which–nonessential to the sentence

5. that–essential to describe the particular form

6. that–essential to describe which car ran the light

7. that–essential to describe the particular meeting he needs to attend

8. which–nonessential to the meaning of the sentence, which is about the meeting

9. that–essential to describe the particular company

10. that–essential to the meaning of the sentence (the two reasons will no doubt be particularized in the sentence that follows