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Grammar Repair Shop: ‘Which’ or ‘that’?

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in Workplace Communication

A reader asks: "Is there a hard-and-fast rule regarding 'that' and 'which?'"

One way to figure out when to use "that" versus "which": Take a look at the whole sentence, and then decide whether the word will introduce an essential or nonessential clause.

"That" introduces clauses that are essential to understanding the sentence's meaning, while "which" introduces clauses that simply provide additional information.

"Daniel is on the team that won first place."
"Dana belongs to an organization that specializes in saving endangered species."
We would not know which team Daniel was on, or which organization Dana belongs to, without the phrases that follow, so we use "that."

Another example:

"The editorial claiming racial differences in intelligence, which appeared in the Sunday newspaper, upset me."
The editorial is already identified. We don't really need to know that it appeared in the Sunday newspaper. Therefore, we use "which."

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