Which vs That: Difference and Comparison

Key Takeaways

  1. The term “which” is a versatile pronoun in English that is commonly used to introduce relative clauses about a noun or noun phrase.
  2. The term “that” plays a crucial role in introducing restrictive clauses essential to the sentence’s meaning.
  3. The term “which” introduces information that can be omitted without changing the core meaning of the sentence, while “that” is used to present information necessary for the sentence’s purpose and cannot be forgotten.

What is the Term ‘Which’?

The term “which” is a versatile pronoun in English that is commonly used to introduce relative clauses and provide additional information about a preceding noun or noun phrase. It helps to clarify or add details to the main idea of a sentence.

One everyday use is to introduce non-restrictive clauses, which provide extra information that is not essential to a sentence’s meaning. For example, “The book on the shelf is my favourite.” In this sentence, the relative clause on the shelf adds supplementary information about the book but doesn’t restrict its identity.

It is also important to note that “which” is generally preceded by a comma when introducing a non-restrictive clause. It is also used in questions such as “Which book do you prefer?”.

What is the Term ‘That’?

The term “that” plays a vital role in introducing restrictive clauses essential to the sentence’s meaning and helps identify the noun being referred to. Its correct usage is essential for clear and concise communication in spoken and written English.

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That is commonly used in restrictive clauses to introduce essential details about animals, objects and people. For example- the movie that I watched last night was terrific. This sentence I watched the previous night identifies which specific film is being praised. It can also introduce clauses that indicate reasons, causes or explanations. These clauses provide insight into why a particular action or situation occurred.

Sometimes, that can be omitted from a sentence without changing its meaning. This is especially common in informal speech and writing. For example- the car that we saw yesterday was red”. It is also used in reported or indirect speech to introduce the speaker’s original words. Its usage contributes to effective communication, clarity and precision in writing and speech.

Difference Between ‘Which’ and ‘That’

  1. The term “Which” is used in non-restrictive clauses, which provide additional, non-essential information, while that is used in restrictive clauses, which provide essential information to the sentence.
  2. When “which” introduces a non-restrictive clause, it is preceded by a comma, while “that” is not preceded by a comma in a restrictive clause.
  3. The term “which” introduces information that can be omitted without changing the core meaning of the sentence, while “that” is used to present information necessary for the sentence’s purpose and cannot be forgotten.
  4. The term ‘which” is often used in questions to ask for choices or alternatives, while “that” is not used in questions in the same way.
  5. “which” can be considered more formal, especially in written English, while “that” is often considered more informal.

Comparison Between ‘Which’ and ‘That’

Parameters‘Which’‘That’
ClausesNon0restrictive clauses which provide additional, non-essential informationRestrictive clauses which provide essential information to the sentence
CommasPreceded by a commaNot preceded by a comma
Essential informationTo introduce information that can be omitted without changing the core meaning of the sentenceTo introduce information that is necessary for the sentence’s meaning and cannot be omitted
Use in questionsTo ask for choices or alternativesNot used in questions in the same way
Informal versus formalMore formalInformal
References
  1. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/journal-of-linguistics/article/difference-between-english-restrictive-and-nonrestrictive-relative-clauses1/DF4605FB6B7E3A2DB88EAF6B00324A9A
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0024384180900364
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