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    That, Which, Who

    Thursday, March 11, 2010

    Linda, an UpWrite Press eTips subscriber from the U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association, sent us this question: Do you have any tips on when to use the word "that"? It's one of my biggest frustrations in writing.

    Do we have tips? Oh, Linda, we do indeed! Relative pronouns, like "that" and others, often create confusion, but here are some hints for figuring out when to use each.

    The relative pronouns "that," "which," and "who" all have the same basic function - to connect a dependent adjective clause to an independent clause.

    "Who" is pretty easy - it's used only when referring to people, as in these sentences:

    He is the one who won the raffle.
    The girl, who had studied karate, assumed a defensive stance.

    The words "that" and "which" are both used to refer to animals, things, or groups. Whether the dependent clauses introduced by these words are essential to the meaning of the sentence will determine which word you should use.

    "That" introduces a clause that is necessary to the meaning of the sentence. Notice that no commas are used.

    The puppy that whined the loudest usually got picked up first.
    We want to be the only club that provides those scholarships.

    "Which," however, introduces a clause that adds nonessential information to a sentence. Notice that commas are used in this case.

    The child gobbled down the apple, which was very ripe and very juicy.
    She ran to the local grocery, which was just two blocks away, and returned with ice cream.

    Bottom line: "Which" introduces nonessential clauses that need commas, while "that" introduces essential clauses with no commas. "Who" introduces clauses that may or may not be set off with commas, depending on whether the information is essential to the meaning of the sentence.

    You can learn more about using relative pronouns beginning on page 98 in Business and Sales Correspondence, an EZ series book, just one of the many helpful business-writing materials from UpWrite Press.

    - Joyce Lee


    Photo from Wikipedia Commons, contributed by Jim Summaria