Don't get worked up about 'which hunts'

Let’s grab a broomstick and sweep away the confusion over which, that, and who.

If you were to craft a sentence using “which” where you should have said “that” or vice versa, the world might not come crashing to a halt. On the other hand, there are times when using any word incorrectly will get in the way of what you’re trying to say—and the question of “which” versus “that” (and even “who”) is no exception.

The which-versus-that debate usually includes some word-nerdy terms. For example, is it a restrictive or nonrestrictive subordinate clause? And that often does more to puzzle than enlighten the mind.

Fortunately, figuring out “which” versus “that” can be easy. Just remember a few witticisms about “whiches,” and you can become a word wizard while keeping the grammar hobgoblins away.

The first thing to remember when deciding between “which” and “that” is you can always get rid of a “which.” In other words, use “which” when you’re writing a phrase that isn’t a necessary part of your overall statement.

For example, look at the following sentence:
“Bring me all the broomsticks, which are in the garage.”

The “which” phrase tells us that all the broomsticks happen to be in the garage, but you could easily delete it without changing the original command: You’d still be asking for all the broomsticks.

On the other hand, check out this slightly different version:
“Bring me all the broomsticks that are in the garage.”

In this case, you can’t remove “that are in the garage” without materially changing the statement. The full version asks for only garage-based broomsticks; a shortened version calls for every broomstick in the place.

It’s also handy to remember that “which” never refers to a person. If you declare, for example, “I laughed at the witch, which was silly,” you’re saying the laugh, not the hag, was inane. If you want to suggest the woman in the pointy hat was the ridiculous part of your tale, you need to say “who.”

Finally, let’s concede that sometimes there’s no need to be a stickler. There are plenty of situations when interchanging “which” or “that” won’t alter your meaning at all.

Remember: As many wise and forgiving experts like to say, “which hunts” ought to be banned.

Margaret McDonald is the president of Smart People Communications and a writer and speaker on business communication topics. She can be reached at Margaret@SmartPeopleAtWork.com or on Twitter @MissCommunicate. The full article.

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