Welcome to the EFC Writer — a series of quick, easily digestible writing tips based on some stuff EFC Services editor Melissa Ruiz is seriously annoyed you’re still doing.
TODAY’S TOPIC: THAT vs WHICH
If you can take your phrase out without changing the meaning of your sentence, use “which.” If you can’t, use “that.”
- Milk that has expired is gross.
- Milk, which tastes delicious, doesn’t last forever.
FOR GRAMMAR GEEKS: RESTRICTIVE vs NONRESTRICTIVE CLAUSES
RESTRICTIVE CLAUSES can’t be removed from a sentence or they’ll change its meaning. If you’re using a restrictive clause, stick with “that” and skip the commas.
Check out my example above. See how if you remove “that has expired” you change the meaning of the sentence? Now you’re saying ALL milk, not just the expired stuff, is gross. Restrictive = necessary for the sentence to mean what you want. Get it? Use “that.”
NONRESTRICTIVE CLAUSES, on the other hand, can be edited away without changing what anything means. They’re often offset with commas, and in this case “which” is your best bet.
Take a peek at my second example sentence. Go ahead! Cut “which tastes delicious” right the heck out of there and then read it again. See? Nonrestrictive = doesn’t change the meaning of your sentence if you delete it. Use “which.”
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