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In this essay, you will be able to find out what's the main difference between which and that and learn the certain peculiarities of their usage.
1. ‘Part of speech’ question.
First of all, we should mention that these two words can be used as different parts of speech. For instance, the word that may be also used as a conjunction, pronoun, adverb, etc, and that’s why can play different roles. So, do not confuse the word that which is used as a conjunction with the word that which is used as a demonstrative pronoun and so on.
Compare the following sentences:
- I do not remember that girl. (In such a case that is related to a person or a thing, the certain girl in particular and play a role of definite article. So that, in this example you can replace the word that with the definite article “the”. Learn about this more)
- Meggie has eaten all the sweets that were bought for other children. (Here that is used to connect two parts of a sentence. It is a conjunction and can be easily replaced by the word which)
2. That and which in a relative clause.
In this type of sentence as a relative clause, we use that in order to tell the reader what we are talking about. Here that and which are pronouns, and these two words are used to indicate the certain thing or to enter any additional information about the thing that was mentioned.
As a rule, that and which can be used only in relation to inanimate objects. With an animate object, we often use who.
When we are speaking about a relative sentence, that is actually more common than which. Nevertheless, there are some cases when the usage of which is obligatory.
Look at the examples:
- I met the boy that studied in my class;
- John was the only man that was taller than me;
- This is the cat that was living in my grandparents’ house;
- The essay that my sister wrote;
- Did you look through the article that I gave you?
- I called to the service that will repair my car.
NB! Although, we usually use the word who for animate and that or which for inanimate objects, in most cases you can replace who with the word that as you can see it in examples.
You can also omit which or that. Compare these two sentences:
- The girl I was going to meet was my sister’s classmate;
Or: The girl which/that (you can also say who) I was going to meet was my sister’s classmate.
- Have you read the book I gave you?
Or: Have you read the book which/that I gave to you.
- This is the song I heard on the radio several weeks ago;
Or: This is the song which/that I heard on the radio several weeks ago.
- The car my brother bought was black;
Or: The car which/that my brother bought was black.
1. That and which in an additional information clause.
Now and then you can come across the certain sentences where you cannot omit that or which. In this sentences, these two words play a role of subjects of the mentioned verbs. Nevertheless, there are cases when which and that are objects.
Look at the example:
- Have you already bought the dress that you want to wear for dinner?
So, in this sentence, we used that in order to identify the particular dress that should have been bought as we did in the previous paragraph. However, there are other types of relative sentences, which have other peculiarities
- Her sister, which is only 12 years old, can speak French fluently.
- John’s wife, which has been working as a nurse for almost 10 years, now is a housewife.
In such sentences, we do not need to identify the certain thing or person, because we already know what exactly is meant here (John’s wife or her sister). That’s why we use the word which in order to provide the reader with an additional information about things or persons. The main characteristic of such sentences is that you should always use who for animate and which for inanimate objects. And you cannot use that at all.
NB! Please, notice that the peculiarities in terms of the usage of which and that may have an influence not only on grammar itself but also on punctuation. Thus, in such clauses where additional information is provided you should mark the clause off by commas. In any other type of a sentence where the words that and which are used, you should not put any commas.
You should also notice that except which an that other words may occur:
- This is an apartment in which in that the girl will be living during the following week
- I remember the hotel in which in that we stayed the last vacation
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