That versus Which

This is another addition to the saga of words that are mistakenly interchanged.

It is a little difficult to judge which one to use and so, most of us end up using that instead of which and vice-versa.

The simple rule is to check whether the sentence has a restrictive clause or a nonrestrictive clause.

Keep reading to find out more!

Restrictive Clause – That

A restrictive clause acts like an adjective and modifies the subject of the sentence. You cannot get rid of it because it provides information which can change the subject if removed. It is always preceded by that.

Clothes that are branded are expensive.

Animals that are aggressive are often put down.

Explanation: Let’s take the first example. It says ‘clothes that are branded are expensive’, without the clause it would read: Clothes are expensive. But not all clothes are expensive, right? Hence, the clause is important to specify that only branded  clothes are expensive.

Note: Commas are not required before or after the clause.

Nonrestrictive Clause – Which

A nonrestrictive clause does not change the meaning of the sentence. It presents additional information. Even if the clause is removed, the rest of the sentence is not affected.

The girl, who I spoke to, said Tina will be late.

Whales, though gigantic, are gentle creatures.

Explanation: Read the first example without the clause- The girl said Tina will be late. It makes sense even if you remove the clause. So we can say that nonrestrictive clauses do not change the meaning of the sentence.

Note: Commas are required before and after the clause.

Tip: Restrictive clauses restrict the meaning of a sentence, nonrestrictive clauses do not.


If the clause changes the meaning of the sentence, use that.

If there is no change in the meaning of the sentence, use which.


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