That vs. Which: A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding the Difference


It’s a common mistake in writing – using “that” and “which” interchangeably. While they may seem like synonyms, there are important differences between the two words. In this article, we’ll explore the nuances of “that” and “which” and provide examples of proper usage.

Grammar 101: Understanding the Difference Between ‘That’ and ‘Which’

Let’s start with definitions. “That” is a restrictive pronoun. It introduces essential information to the sentence that is necessary for the sentence’s meaning. On the other hand, “which” is a nonrestrictive pronoun. It introduces additional information or clarifies something that has already been stated.

Here’s an example of proper usage: “The shirt that I bought yesterday is blue.” In this sentence, “that” is used to introduce essential information to the sentence. If we used “which” instead, the sentence would become nonrestrictive, and the information “I bought it yesterday” would become less important.

Clearing Up the Confusion: A Guide to When You Should Use ‘That’ versus ‘Which’

When determining whether to use “that” or “which” in your writing, you need to determine whether the clause it’s introducing is restrictive or nonrestrictive. A restrictive clause contains information that is essential to understanding the sentence’s meaning. A nonrestrictive clause provides additional information that is not necessary to the sentence’s understanding.

For example: “The book that I am reading is about grammar.” In this sentence, “that” is used because the information it introduces is essential to the sentence’s meaning. On the other hand, “The book, which is about grammar, is in my backpack” uses “which” because the information it introduces is an addition to what’s already been stated.

Demystifying ‘That’ and ‘Which’: How to Choose the Right One for Your Sentence

You can also determine which word to use by identifying the verb in the sentence’s clause. If the verb has a preposition, use “which.” If the verb doesn’t have a preposition, use “that.”

For instance: “The dog that chased the mailman was scolded” uses “that” because the verb “chased” doesn’t have a preposition. In contrast, “The dog, which was running towards the mailman, was scolded” uses “which” because the verb “running” has the preposition “towards.”

An additional factor to consider is whether the clause is restrictive or nonrestrictive. If the clause is restrictive, use “that.” If the clause is nonrestrictive, use “which.” For example, “I love the movie that you recommended” uses “that” to introduce essential information about the movie. In contrast, “I love the movie, which you recommended, about time travel” uses “which” to introduce additional, nonessential information about the movie.

The Battle of ‘That’ and ‘Which’: A Comprehensive Guide to Sentence Structure

If you’re struggling with using “that” and “which” correctly, sentence diagramming can help. In sentence diagramming, you break down the sentence into its different elements, such as the subject, verb, and noun.

For example, let’s break down this sentence: “The book that I am reading is about grammar.” The subject is “book,” the verb is “reading,” and the clause is “that I am reading.” In this sentence, “that” is introducing essential information that is necessary to understanding the sentence’s meaning.

Using ‘That’ vs. ‘Which’: How to Enhance the Clarity of Your Writing

Redundancy is another common mistake when using “that” and “which” in writing. If the information is already present in the sentence, you don’t need to reintroduce it using “which.”

For example, “I love the pizza that has pepperoni on it, which is my favorite topping” is needlessly redundant. Instead, “I love the pizza that has pepperoni, my favorite topping” is clearer and more concise.

Additionally, you can improve the clarity and flow of your writing by using “that” and “which” to create a sense of contrast or emphasis. For example, “I loved the first season of the show that was funny, but the second season, which was too dramatic, left me disappointed.”

Tackling the Tricky Territory of ‘That’ and ‘Which’: Tips and Tricks for Usage

Remember these tips to help you use “that” and “which” correctly:

  • Use “that” for restrictive clauses, “which” for nonrestrictive clauses
  • If the verb has a preposition, use “which.” If it doesn’t, use “that.”
  • Avoid redundancy and only use “which” when introducing new information.

With these tips in mind, you’ll be able to confidently use “that” and “which” in your writing.


While it’s easy to use “that” and “which” interchangeably, remember that these words have important differences in meaning and usage in English grammar. Keep in mind when to use “that” versus “which”, and reinforce your understanding with diagramming and examples. With these skills under your belt, you can write confidently and clearly, making your communication more effective and precise.

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