Grammar To Go
Takeout tips for better writing
Should you use which or that?
Although we often see which and that used interchangeably in writing, the choice really shouldn’t be random. Mixing up these two relative pronouns is a common mistake. We tend to use which when we should use that.
In most cases that is preferable. That introduces essential (restrictive) clauses. The details of the clause are necessary to the meaning of the sentence.
Jay has been looking for a good book that explains grammar in simple terms.
He hasn’t been searching for just any good book; he wants a specific type of book. The that clause is essential to the sentence. Notice there are no commas around that clauses.
As you edit your writing, look for the word which. It should introduce extra details that could be left out of the sentence, while still retaining your meaning.
Jay has been searching for a good book, which explains why he’s been gone for hours.
The extra information isn’t essential to knowing what Jay’s doing. Note that which clauses are always set off by commas.
This isn’t the whole story on using which and that. But stick to the above and you’ll be good to go.
(Ouch! Did I use that word the wrong way again?)
Two Steps Farther to Get Further
Did you know there’s a subtle difference between the words farther and further, beyond the spelling? Both compare distance, but farther is best used for physical distances.
Beth jumped farther than Jim.
In American English, further is used for abstract lengths, ones you can’t necessarily measure.
Nothing can be further from the truth.
(The same preferred usage goes for farthest and furthest.)
While British English uses farther the same way we do, further is allowed much broader meaning. Knowing the distinction is not critical; however, using the right word will up the professionalism of your writing.