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Your opinion on which/that
Thread poster: Sonia Dorais

Sonia Dorais
Canada
Local time: 11:03
French to English
+ ...
Oct 6, 2006

Hi everyone! Here I am again with a question. I would like to know your opinions on which/that (which one to use and when).

I had an English prof who said always use that instead of which when you can. But are they really interchangeable?

Sentence examples:

The system may have blocked e-mails from senders, which were previously not blocked.

The system may have blocked e-mails from senders that were previously not blocked.


So let me know your thoughts... You are great (by the way) and thanks a lot for you inputs.


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Rita Bilancio  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:03
English to Italian
+ ...
which is more formal Oct 6, 2006

I normally use which in more formal contexts, that in all other cases...

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texjax DDS PhD  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:03
Member (2006)
English to Italian
+ ...
the difference Oct 6, 2006

This might be useful.

Ciao

http://www.llrx.com/columns/grammar3.htm


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Parrot  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 17:03
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Apart from that, in defining relative clauses Oct 6, 2006

they are interchangeable:

The film which/that won the award.

In non-defining relative clauses, only "which" is used:

The film, which was very good, won the award.

In objects of the preposition, only "which" is used:

The table on which I placed the book

From: A Practical English Grammar, Thompson & Martinet


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Kim Metzger  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 10:03
German to English
US English usage Oct 6, 2006

Hi Sonia-Catherine - it just so happens I have devoted quite a bit of attention to the question you're asking. I'm writing an article for the ProZ.com database on the differences between German and English punctuation. To start with, here's how American editors see the issue. The British solution is quite different.

Restrictive clauses, which are essential to the meaning of the sentence, are not set off by a comma. Nonrestrictive clauses, which are not essential to the meaning of the sentence--they merely add further information--are set off by a comma. For example:

Restrictive: The lemmings that performed well in the first race were all fuzzy animals.

Nonrestrictive: The lemmings, which performed well in the first race, were all fuzzy animals.

The Deluxe Transitive Vampire, Karen Elizabeth Gordon


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Kim Metzger  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 10:03
German to English
Some comments on British usage Oct 6, 2006

By the 20th century, the restrictive-only use of that was fixed. Which, however, does get used for restrictive clauses as well, more often in Britain than in the U.S. For instance, the British lexicographers I worked with in England would define a leaflet for a learner's dictionary as 'a piece of paper which gives information about something', rather than using '...that gives information.'
The choice of which or that in restrictive clauses is more of a stylistic choice--what you think is clearer, what sounds more mellifluous. Sometimes, however, the choice is pretty darned obvious: Nietzche's "That which does not kill me makes me stronger" would be ludicrous as "That that."

Wendalyn, The Mavens' Word of the Day, 14 Feb 2000

http://www.randomhouse.com/wotd/index.pperl?date=20000214


Economist Style Guide:
Which informs, that defines. This is the house that Jack built. But This house, which Jack built, is now falling down. Americans tend to be fussy about making a distinction between which and that. Good writers of British English are less fastidious. (“We have left undone those things which we ought to have done.”)


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Vito Smolej
Germany
Local time: 17:03
Member (2004)
English to Slovenian
+ ...
so what about Canadian usage? Oct 6, 2006

Hi Kim:

you may have noticed that your comments on American vs British usage just put more stress on my English speaking fellow Canadians, Sonia-Catherine among them. Is it not enough that we're sort of stuck in between? That for Americans we're sooo British? And that British think we - with the exception of Connie Black - just don't know how to spell??....

Immediate help which will clear the issue, that's spooking us, would be very welcome.

with TiC

Regards

smo

[Edited at 2006-10-06 21:00]


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xxxLia Fail  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 17:03
Spanish to English
+ ...
important difference /2nd sentence is correct but also ambiguous Oct 6, 2006

Sonia-Catherine wrote:

Hi everyone! Here I am again with a question. I would like to know your opinions on which/that (which one to use and when).

I had an English prof who said always use that instead of which when you can. But are they really interchangeable?

Sentence examples:

The system may have blocked e-mails from senders, which were previously not blocked.

The system may have blocked e-mails from senders that were previously not blocked.


So let me know your thoughts... You are great (by the way) and thanks a lot for you inputs.



Generally speaking:

1. You can use WHICH OR THAT interchangeably provided there's no comma

2. However, I remeber reading a study to do with translation that came to the conclusions that we overuse WHICH when THAT would be marginally preferable (by Mona Baker, if I remeber rightly). This overuse of WHICH is confirmed in the link on scientific writing provided below.

3. After a comma is another issue. There should be no comma before THAT.

4. There may be a comma before WHICH, but with a change in meaning (without the comma WHICH and THAT are interchangeable, with teh comma they are not).

5. So looking at your sentences, these bring up the issue of what is a DEFINING CLAUSE and what is a NON-DEFINING CLAUSE.

Your sentences don't illustrate the difference between the 2 types of clause well, as only the 2nd one is correct, strictly speaking.

So, other examples.

a. Mice are typically found in fields that (which) lie near houses.

b. Mice are typically found in fields near houses, which is not entirely unexpected.

When you use THAT you are linking a piece of information that is essential.

When you use WHICH with a comma before it, you are adding an aside, i.e. an additional item of information.

In the 1st senstence you are saying that mice ONLY lve in this kind of field, so this item of info is essential to meaning.

In the 2nd senetce, the WHICH clause adds a non-essential aside. If you remove the WHICH clause, you would not detract from the essential meaning of the main clause.

6. In your sentences, the 2nd one is intuitively correct becuase it describes the pecise kind of mails that are being blocked, in other words, rather than tell us that mails are being blocked, we are told which specific mails are possibly being blocked. To use comma + WHICH is to relegate this essential defining info to a secondary role, which is not what is intended.

The system may have blocked e-mails from senders, which were previously not blocked.

The system may have blocked e-mails from senders that were previously not blocked.

7. Note that there is ANOTHER problem with the 2nd sentence. It's ambiguous, becuase THAT is an ALTERNATIVE TO WHO also (i.e. in some cases both are interchangeable), so the Q is: are mails or senders being blocked.

If it's mails, then tehse are the alternative phrasings taht remove the ambiguity:

The system may have blocked e-mails (omission) that were previously not blocked.

The system may have blocked sender e-mails THAT were previously not blocked.

The system may have blocked e-mails from senders WHICH were previously not blocked.

Note that in the 3rd change this is a justified use of WHICH (no comma of course) as it removes the ambiguity that is implied by the THAT possibly referring to mails or senders.

And, finally, if it's senders who are being blocked, this is the alternative, non-ambiguous alternative:

The system may have blocked e-mails from senders WHO were previously not blocked.

Although, given your 2 alternatives, it seems as if it's mails not senders who are being blocked:-)

http://www.safarix.com/0321159810/ch05lev1sec9


I taught EN for years, so had to wrestle out meanings and differences fro myself to be able to explain to students:-)


[Edited at 2006-10-06 22:09]


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xxxLia Fail  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 17:03
Spanish to English
+ ...
Which tends to be overused Oct 6, 2006

Kim Metzger wrote:

By the 20th century, the restrictive-only use of that was fixed. Which, however, does get used for restrictive clauses as well, more often in Britain than in the U.S. For instance, the British lexicographers I worked with in England would define a leaflet for a learner's dictionary as 'a piece of paper which gives information about something', rather than using '...that gives information.'
The choice of which or that in restrictive clauses is more of a stylistic choice--what you think is clearer, what sounds more mellifluous. Sometimes, however, the choice is pretty darned obvious: Nietzche's "That which does not kill me makes me stronger" would be ludicrous as "That that."

Wendalyn, The Mavens' Word of the Day, 14 Feb 2000

http://www.randomhouse.com/wotd/index.pperl?date=20000214


Economist Style Guide:
Which informs, that defines. This is the house that Jack built. But This house, which Jack built, is now falling down. Americans tend to be fussy about making a distinction between which and that. Good writers of British English are less fastidious. (“We have left undone those things which we ought to have done.”)


Hi Kim

Interesting what you say, but see my posting and also the link:-)

Ailish


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 09:03
English to Spanish
+ ...
Why? Oct 7, 2006

Having never been much of a student of grammar in either the English or Spanish languages, what I do is use "that" whenever it sounds right, but I normally use "which" after a comma, but perhaps not always.

That's what you call the "seat of the pants" approach. If it works, do it.


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Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 20:33
Member (2006)
English to Hindi
+ ...
Here is how I understand it Oct 7, 2006

"That" is used if it introduces essential information.

"Which" is used if it introduces additional (non-essential) information.

In other words, that is integral to the meaning of the main clause.

Which is an add-on, even without the added information in the clause following "which", the main clause can stand and convey a more-or-less complete meaning.

Fowler's Modern English Usage has a nice section on the difference between the two. Please look up the entry under "that".


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Steven Sidore  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 17:03
Member (2003)
German to English
Weighing in as a US book editor Oct 7, 2006

The usage provided in Kim's description is not just correct, but mandatory. The two are not interchangeable in a well-written prose.

I can't comment on British (or Canadian) usage, I've not studied them.

Cheers,

Steven


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Steven Sidore  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 17:03
Member (2003)
German to English
One good way for native and non-native English speakers to improve their grammar Oct 7, 2006

The classic text for improving your grammar is Strunk and White, aka "the little book." No serious writer should be without it. Here's an online version: http://www.bartleby.com/141/ from 1918. If it strikes a chord--and it should--then go buy the later revised editions.

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Ritu Bhanot  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 17:03
Member (2006)
French to Hindi
+ ...
That or Which... Oct 7, 2006

Well, just a basic set of rules. Hope this is of some help:


Relative Clauses:

There are two kinds of relative clauses in English:

- Defining (or identifying or restrictive) relative clauses tell us which person or thing the speaker is talking about. Identifying relative clauses ususally follow immediately after the nouns that they modify, without a break: they are not separated by pauses or intonation movements in speech, or by commas in writing because the noun would be incomplete without the relatvie clause, and the sentence would make no sense or have a different meaning.
That is common as a relative pronoun in identifying clauses.



In case of a Person:
For Subject use Who and use That only in Informal register.
For Object use Who and use That only in Informal register.

In case of a Thing:
For Subject use Which/ That.
For Object use Which/ That..


eg.
Is that your car that's parked outside?
Have you got something that will get ink out of a carpet?


- Non-defining (or non-identifying or non-restrictive) relative clauses just give us more information about the person or thing.

Always separated from the main part of the sentence by a Comma.

In non-defining clause, we can use who, which, whose or where, but not that.

This implies that there is no confusion in non-defining relative clauses... but the confusion arises in the Defining relative clauses (in the category 'Thing').

Which:

As a relative pronoun which must have an antecedent, i.e. a preceding noun or pronoun to which it refers. It is wrong to use it without. Examples:

Incorrect: I reached the office which pleased my boss.
Correct: I reached the office early, and that pleased my boss.

Incorrect: Tom hoped to pass the examination, which he didn't.
Correct: Tom hoped to pass the examination, but he didn't.

That is not used after a preposition whereas Which can be used after a preposition.

that or which?
that defines, which informs: this is the house that Jack built, but this house, which Jack built, is now falling down


Bibliography:
Page 115, 117, Language in Use, Classroom Book - Adrian Doff, Christopher Jones. © Cambridge University Press, 2004
Page 489 - 491, Practical English Usage - © Michael Swan, 1980, 1995, 1996, Oxford University Press,
Page 59, English for the Secretarial Student. - L. Gartside. © Wheeler Publishing, 1985
The Guardian Style guide.


[Edited at 2006-10-07 07:59]


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transparx  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 11:03
English to Italian
+ ...
... Oct 7, 2006

While I like and appreciate the explanation at the end of your post -especially your discussion of the ambiguity in one of the sentences provided by the asker, I wanted to rectify something.

You write:


Lia Fail wrote:


Your sentences don't illustrate the difference between the 2 types of clause well, as only the 2nd one is correct, strictly speaking.

So, other examples.

a. Mice are typically found in fields that (which) lie near houses.

b. Mice are typically found in fields near houses, which is not entirely unexpected.

When you use THAT you are linking a piece of information that is essential.

When you use WHICH with a comma before it, you are adding an aside, i.e. an additional item of information.

In the 1st senstence you are saying that mice ONLY lve in this kind of field, so this item of info is essential to meaning.

In the 2nd senetce, the WHICH clause adds a non-essential aside. If you remove the WHICH clause, you would not detract from the essential meaning of the main clause.



I’m afraid this explanation only adds more confusion.
The examples you give have nothing to do with the that/which distinction the asker is asking about.

a.Mice are typically found in fields that (which) lie near houses.

Sentence (a) contains a restrictive adjective (or relative) clause, i.e., "that/which lie near houses," which restricts, or defines, the noun "fields." But this sentence does not imply that “mice ONLY live in this kind of field.” This, I believe, can be easily shown by the following:
b.Mice are typically found in fields that (which) lie near houses, and so are squirrels.
The adjective clause here simply restricts “fields,” that is, it maps the set of all possible fields in the world onto a smaller one, the set of fields that lie near houses.

As for the second sentence, it is not a good example at all. Of course, it is perfectly correct, but this “which” is a different one altogether --a pro-clause rather than a pronoun. In other words, here "which” refers to the whole preceding clause rather than to a noun within it. A rough, informal interpretation of sentence (b) would be (d).
(d) Mice are typically found in fields near houses, and this fact (i.e., [the fact] that mice are typically found in fields near houses) is not entirely unexpected.

In other words, sentence (b) does not exemplify nonrestrictive (or nonessential, as they are sometimes called) adjective clauses.

Kim’s examples are much better in this respect, and they clearly illustrate the distinction under discussion.

Restrictive: (e) The lemmings that performed well in the first race were all fuzzy animals.

Nonrestrictive: (f) The lemmings, which performed well in the first race, were all fuzzy animals.

As Kim points out, sentence (e) is restrictive. What does that mean? It means that we are not talking about the entire set of lemmings existing in the world, but about a smaller set --namely, only those that performed well in the first race- and only about those are we saying that they "were all fuzzy animals." We might as well go on and say completely different things about (the) other lemmings without contradicting ourselves.
As far as I know (and as has been pointed out by others), “which” can be used instead of “that" in restrictive relative clauses. Thus, in this case, one could choose “which” instead of “that.”

Sentence (f), on the other hand, is nonrestrictive. This means that [The lemmings, which performed well in the first race] and [the lemmings] the speaker has in mind are, in fact, one and the same set. In other words, we start with a set -[the lemmings]- and we keep talking about the same set, without restricting it in any way. In this case, "that" cannot be used.

Of course, we could also say something like (g), which would be structurally the same as sentence (b).
(g) The lemmings were all fuzzy animals, which didn’t surprise anyone.
But, again, this is a completely different construction.


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