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That vs. Which


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"That" and "which"  seem very similar and it may seem difficult to determine which to use.  But fortunately, there are rules to guide us. 

"That" is used with restrictive clauses. 

"Which" is used with non-restrictive causes and are separated from the rest of the sentence with commas.

Let's start with "that."  A restrictive clause is so named because  it restricts or limits the meaning.  Here are some examples: 

The house that is around the corner is for sale. 

The books that are on the top shelf are rare first editions.

The road that divides the town needs to be repaved.

In each case, the subjects of these sentences are limited or restricted.  The house is specifically the house "around the corner" and so on.

If a sentence has a non-restrictive clause that means it tells us something about the subject, but it is not essential to know.  So we can take those same sentences and reconstruct them with non-essential clauses.  We would then use "which."  We also separate the non-restrictive phrases with commas.

The house, which was built in the 1930s, is for sale. 

The books, which were owned by a famous actress,  are rare first editions.

The road, which was originally a dirt road, needs to be repaved.

In each sentence above, "which" precedes a clause that tells us some details about the subject, but that are not essential to know. 

Can you think of some sentences using "which" and "that?"

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Wow, I've always wondered when I'm using the right one. Thanks for the guide.

I'll try it with simple sentences then.

The car that is making a lot of noise is my grandmother's.

The car, which looks very old, is my grandmother's.

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