Which is which. That is that!

clothing to children
Which of the following is better?

1. Clothes Peg is a program which donates clothing to children.

    OR

    2. Clothes Peg is a program that donates clothing to children.

    What about these two sentences?

    1. Funds will go to the Mid-Town Clinic that focuses on helping the working uninsured receive medical treatment.

    OR

    2. Funds will go to the Mid-Town Clinic, which focuses on helping the working uninsured receive medical treatment.

    Does it make any difference?

    According to The Chicago Manual of Style, if you live in Great Britain, it doesn’t make any difference. But in “polished American prose” – I would call it effective writing – we make a distinction.

    Officially, the word that is a relative pronoun and is used restrictively. It limits the meaning of the preceding noun and is necessary to the understanding of the sentence.

    The word which is a relative pronoun, used non-restrictively. It defines or adds information to the preceding noun.

    Try This!

    If you’re not sure, insert a comma after the noun the phrase follows. If the phrase makes sense with a comma, use which. If it doesn’t, use that.

    Which one is better?

    In the first example, adding a comma would give you this: “Clothes Peg is a program, which donates clothing to children.”  It sounds like you’re unnecessarily defining “program,” doesn’t it? So in that case, the second choice is better: “Clothes Peg is a program that donates clothing to children.”

    Try it with the second example: “Funds will go to the Mid-Town Clinic, which focuses on helping.” If you used that, it would indicate that out of several Mid-Town Clinics,  this is the one that focuses on helping the working uninsured.

    Another Trick of the Trade

    Remove the phrase. If the sentence informs you without it, which is your word.

    In our examples, the phrases would read:

    “Clothes Peg is a program.” [Well, that tells me a lot!]

    Funds will go to the Good Samaritan Clinic. [That’s great! How should I make out my check?]

    Do We Have One Car or Two?

    A simple switch from that to which lets you know.

    1. “ Our car that is in the garage shows 85,000 miles on the odometer.”
    2. “Our car, which is in the garage, shows 85,000 miles on the odometer.”

    Cheryl Bryan

    About Cheryl Bryan

    Cheryl has years of experience in the business world, in a variety of fields: staffing, insurance, construction, and advertising, to name a few. She has freelanced since 1990. Friends and colleagues describe her as genuine, thoughtful, gracious, organized, easy-going, compassionate, a "thinker as well as a doer," and one who not only gets the job done but does it well. Born in rural Nebraska, she is back now after living in California, Texas, South Africa, Illinois, Tennessee, and Mississippi and traveling in Europe, South Africa, and Thailand.
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    2 Responses to Which is which. That is that!

    1. Cheryl Cheryl says:

      You’re welcome, Doris!

      Also, that’s probably a good suggestion: When I write something about grammar, to explain it so a nine-year-old can understand it. That would probably help me understand it better, too!

    2. Doris says:

      Thanks for clearing that one up for me! I never knew the difference – let alone trying to explain it to my 9 year old.

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