Lightweight Grammar Showdown: That v. Which

That v. Which is one of those conundrums that I often face. Honestly, I usually just go with the one that sounds the best. I think that usually works, but eventually I am going to memorize this rule and know that I’m correct every time. 

Round 1

A writer is writing about someone who stole two wombats from a zoo. They were both in the same cage, but one wombat was cute and the other wombat was ugly. 

Should “that” or “which” go in the following sentence? 

The wombat (that/which) was cute was found in the defendant’s spare bedroom. 

If you guessed “that,” you win this round! Ding ding ding! 

Round 2

Should commas be added to that sentence? 

The wombat, that was cute, was found in the defendant’s spare bedroom. 

Yes? No? 

It’s no. Why? Because “that was cute” restricts “wombat.” It tells us which wombat was found. 

Round 3

New sentence: 

Both wombats (that/which) were cute were owned by the Zoo. 

If you said “which,” you win! I mean, you don’t win anything, but you can be smug about it for a little while. 

Round 4

Should commas be added to that sentence? 

Both wombats, which were cute, were owned by the Zoo. 

Yes? No? 

Yes! Why? 

Because in this context “both wombats” completely identifies the wombats the writer is talking about. The clause “which were cute” just gives additional information, but the information doesn’t restrict the meaning of the subject. 

Assignment

Now your assignment: think of a place where someone could hide a wombat and they would not be likely to get caught. Email that place to me. 

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