"Between me and the life there is a mist of words always." (Oscar Wilde)

Word Tip Archived Item

WORD TIP: That and Which

There is much confusion over the appropriate use of these two pronouns. We refer to that and which as relative pronouns, because they are used to link a subordinate (relative) clause to the main clause in the sentence.

Example:

(main clause) Attendees at the pie baking contest enjoyed the ones
(subordinate clause) that were prepared by the children.

Like all pronouns, they stand for nouns.
Use That – when referring to people, animals or things.
Use Which – when referring to animals or things; never when referring to people.

Examples:

Evergreens are trees that remain green all year long.
Trees, which grow in every region of North America, are an important source of lumber.

What’s the difference?

In the first sentence, the group word “trees” has been limited or defined. We are only talking about the group of trees that are green year round.

In the second sentence, we are talking about a large collective group known as “trees”

Tip: If the clause is a defining clause, use that.

Reminder: Never use which when referring to people.