Today we welcome our newest member of the blog, Audrey Sillett Lintner. Let's give her a big welcome!
Greetings, all! My name is Audrey, and I am your new Style Maven. Hm? Why am I wearing a bathrobe? Because we’re dealing with a whole ’nother kind of style today, so we had better get comfy.
Today we’ll consult the sixteenth edition of The Chicago Manual of Style to see what it says about the use of “that” versus “which”. Both are relative pronouns, and their usage is often confused. Let’s have a look at the—
Oof. This thing is heavy.
Ah, here we are. According to the manual, a relative pronoun is “one that introduces a dependent (or relative) clause and relates it to the independent clause.” A literary matchmaker, if you will. Let’s find out how to ensure that our matches are made in heaven, rather than an editor’s slush pile.
Let’s look at that. No, not that over there. I mean that, here on the page. Think of the word that as a grammatical corset, narrowing and restricting a category or subject:
That is the gaudiest necklace I’ve ever seen.
Be it a person, animal, or thing, that will let your reader know about whom or what you are writing.
On the other hand, besides different fingers, we have which. A nonrestrictive free spirit, which is used to provide extra tidbits about an animal or thing already identified:
She had a unique sense of taste, which was obvious from her possum-fur reticule.
The manual does offer a further word of caution here. “Which should be used restrictively only when it is preceded by a preposition (the situation in which we find ourselves). Otherwise, it is almost always preceded by a comma, a parenthesis, or a dash.”
Let’s review. Restrictive clauses, which are vital to the structure of a sentence, are paired with that in order to make a subject clear. Nonrestrictive clauses, which offer supplemental information, get to team up with which.