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Which vs That

Written by tutor Michael W.

Everyday conversations with your friends probably don't involve grammar. We understand what you are trying to convey and can gloss over minor contextual or grammar mistakes.

When writing a paper for school or completing an entrance exam, it is essential that you can correctly answer questions where two similar sounding words can appear.

For example, when do you use "which" and when do you use "that?"

To keep it simple, follow this rule:

If the phrase is essential to the meaning or context of the sentence, then use THAT.
If the phrase is not essential to the meaning or context of the sentence, then use WHICH.

In this sentence, both of the words are listed. We can break it down and see the proper word to use.

"The chocolate ice cream that I love, which I kept in the freezer, was eaten by my brother."

Does stating I love chocolate ice cream essential to the meaning of the sentence? Yes! It shows my desire for this type of food. Because it is important to understanding my belief or emotions, I used THAT.

Does stating I keep ice cream in the freezer essential to the meaning of the sentence? No! First of all, where else do you keep ice cream? Also, if it was removed from the sentence, would you still understand the meaning of it? Yes! It is extra info that is not needed. In this case, use WHICH.

Now, hopefully you won't get something like this:

That witch knew which witch did that.

Let's not even go there!

Which or That Practice Quiz

Now, test your knowledge by answering the questions with the appropriate word: "which" or "that."

I quickly saved the document ____ I had been working on all morning.

A. that
B. which
The correct answer here would be A.

The information here is essential in letting the reader know which document the narrator saved.

I made sure to grab my warm coat, ____ was hanging in the closet, before I left for the meeting.

A. that
B. which
The correct answer here would be B.

The information here is not essential in letting the reader know that the coat was grabbed.

The dinner ____ she ate, ____ was prepared by the top chef, was not to her liking.

A. which, which
B. which, that
C. that, which
D. that, that
The correct answer here would be C.

In the first phrase, "that she ate" is necessary information because it tells the reader which dinner the speaker is referring to. "Which was prepared by the top chef" is useful information, though it is not necessary to the meaning of the sentence, which is that she did not like the dinner.

The storm, ____ was approaching us quickly, inspired a fear ____ stayed with us all afternoon.

A. which, which
B. which, that
C. that, which
D. that, that
The correct answer here would be B.

In the first phrase, "which was approaching us quickly" is not necessary information; it adds the speed of the storm. "That stayed with us all afternoon" is essential in understanding the type of fear "they" experienced.

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