Commonly Confused Words: Which vs. That

by | Nov 12, 2021 | Commonly Confused Words, GrammarSpot | 0 comments

If you’re baffled about when to use which vs. that, you’re in the same boat as many new and experienced writers. Writers often use which and that interchangeably. However, the rule is to use that before a restrictive clause and which before a nonrestrictive clause. This explanation clears everything up for you, right? I’m willing to bet you’re more confused now than before you started reading this article. Don’t worry; grammar help is on the way!


which vs. that

Which vs. That at a Glance

Understanding what which and that mean and their possible parts of speech are the first steps to clearing up some confusion.

*Which can be used as a pronoun or adjective to refer to or describe a particular person, place or thing.

*That is a pronoun, conjunction, adverb or adjective used to identify or describe a person, place or thing. That can also begin a subordinate clause or express a specific degree.

The which versus that uncertainty arises when writers need to decide which word to use at the beginning of an adjective clause. Each clause modifies the noun or pronoun it follows. The issue to consider is whether the clause restricts the meaning of the noun or pronoun it modifies.


What’s the Difference Between Which and That?

When deciding whether to use which versus that, examine the importance of the clause that follows each term. Does the clause provide crucial information to the sentence, or are these details unnecessary?


When To Use Which

If the sentence’s meaning stays the same when you remove the clause, the clause is nonrestrictive or nonessential, so you should use which and set the clause apart with commas.

Examples of using which in a sentence:

  • Her blue dress, which had lace sleeves and a ball-gown skirt, flowed in the breeze as she walked from her car to the building.
  • The man couldn’t wait to get his new helmet in the mail, which he ordered online.
  • The employer had to choose between four qualified candidates, which made the decision about who to hire even more difficult.


When To Use That

If removing the clause changes the sentence’s meaning or causes it to be nonsensical, the clause is restrictive or essential. In this scenario, you should use that.

Examples of using that in a sentence:

  • The living room chair that has a ripped seat is uncomfortable to sit on.
  • I wore the new clothes that I bought yesterday to school today.
  • Do you want to paint your room the same color that I painted mine?


which or that

Which vs. That Are Commonly Confused

If you’re still having trouble figuring out when to use which or that, I have some helpful advice. To determine whether which vs. that is correct, ask yourself one simple question: Is the adjective clause important to the sentence’s meaning? If you answer yes, use that. Alternatively, if your response is no, you should use which.

If you’re unsure if the adjective clause is important, try reading the sentence without the clause. This process will help you distinguish whether the information is essential or nonessential.

Now that you’re an expert on when to use which or that, make sure you apply this wisdom to your writing. If there are other commonly confused words you struggle with, let us know in the comment section. We are here to help!

Barbara Keim