Tuesday, 6 December 2011

OED Grammar Tip

In a recent Oxford English newsletter, they had a tip about which should be used in a sentence: 'that' or 'which'. Many people use that, where they should be using which, so I have decided to repeat this tip in my newsletter.

In many instances, both words are equally correct in UK (NZ) English:
  • "She held out the hand which was hurt
  • "She held out the hand that was hurt
"In these [two examples above], that and which are introducing what’s known as a restrictive relative clause.

"This is a clause containing essential information about the noun that comes before it. If you leave out this type of clause, the meaning of the sentence is affected – indeed, it will probably not make much sense at all. Restrictive relative clauses can be introduced by that, which, whose, who, or whom.

"The other type of relative clause is known as a non-restrictive relative clause. This kind of clause contains extra information that could be left out of the sentence without affecting the meaning or structure. Non-restrictive clauses can be introduced by which, whose, who, or whom, but you should never use that to introduce them. For example:

"A list of contents would have made it easier to steer through the book, which also lacks a map.

"She held out her hand, which Rob shook.

"Note that a non-restrictive clause is preceded by a comma (so as to set off the extra information), whereas no comma should precede a restrictive clause (indicating that the information is essential, not extra):
  • "I bought a new dress, which I will be wearing to Jo's party. [non-restrictive]
  • "I was wearing the dress that I bought to wear to Jo's party. [restrictive]
  • "I was wearing the dress which I bought to wear to Jo's party. [restrictive]"
Thanks to OED for clearing that up.

Reference: Oxford English Dictionaries (2011). Grammar Tip: 'That' or 'which'?. UK: Author. Retrieved 12 August 2011 from http://oxforddictionaries.com/page/grammartipthatorwhich


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