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which that? that which?

"... and somebody smarter than me has sorted out all the "whiches" and the "thats."

In grade school, we were specifically told that "that" and "which" were pretty much interchangeable.  Now, whenever I use "which", grammar checkers get annoyed.

So what is the rule for which/that - or does it really matter.

"I have a fix for that bug which/that just needs to be tested."

Which is it?

My English sucks.  Too bad its my only language.

hoser
Sunday, July 18, 2004

MS Word wants to see either ...

"I have a fix for that bug, which just needs to be tested."

... or ...

"I have a fix for that bug that just needs to be tested."

Note that the first has a comma.

You can also google for "that or which" (include the quotation marks).

Christopher Wells
Sunday, July 18, 2004

It's a British/American difference.

For non-defining(descriptive) relative clauses such as

Joel Spolsky, who writes a blog called "Joel on
Software", is an ex-Micorosoft employee.

you must use 'who/which' in both regional variants.


For defining relative clauses, such as

The guy that writes the "Joel on Software' blog is called Joel Spolsky.

American English insists on 'that' but British English allows either 'that' or 'who/which'.

I don't know what happens if you set the grammar checker for Word to check UK English as I never use it. If you still get the pattern Christopher refers to for UK English, then it's a bug and Microsoft should fix it.

Stephen Jones
Sunday, July 18, 2004

While I don't have my GMAT book in front of me, I believe that it indicates that in Standard Written English (a rigorously defined style) the difference between 'that' and 'which' depends on whether one is using the clause to limit the antecedent or not.

I'll dig up their examples and definition later if I can.

Lou
Sunday, July 18, 2004

And here's the quote from my GMAT book:

That, Which

'That' is the resrictive pronoun.  A phrase or subordinate clause introduced by 'that' limits the meaning of the word it modifies.  A restrictive phrase or clause is essential to the meaning of the sentence and is not set off by commas.  'Which' is nonrestrictive.

e.g.,  The bus that stops near my house just left.
        The bus, which stops near my house, just left.

Lou
Sunday, July 18, 2004

Ah so:

> The bus that stops near my house just left.

"The bus that stops near my house" is one item, and it just left.

> The bus, which stops near my house, just left.

"The bus" is one item. It happens to stop near my house as well. Oh, and it just left.

www.MarkTAW.com
Sunday, July 18, 2004

You would think Philo would chip in by now, he is/was a lawyer.

Li-fan Chen
Monday, July 19, 2004

As I said, saying 'which' can only be used in non-defining (or non-restrictive) clauses is a purely American rule. In Britain 'which/who' can be used in both kinds of clauses.

Stephen Jones
Monday, July 19, 2004

Incidentally the Word 2002 Grammar checker seems to allow who/which in defining claiuses in both the UK and US versions.

Stephen Jones
Monday, July 19, 2004

Stephen,

I'm not saying you're mistaken, but it would be helpful if you could give some kind of reference to show that the unbridled use of "which" is truly sanctioned in UK English, rather than simply the product of the invariably sloppy writing habits of 99% of the British population.

Dave Hallett
Monday, July 19, 2004

Here's a link to Fowler, "The King's English" (1908)
The 'sanctioning' you refer to comes from the sources given (including Thackery).
http://www.bartleby.com/116/204.html

Here's a link to "The American Heritage Book of English Usage" (1996), which argues the same way for American usage
http://www.bartleby.com/64/C001/062.html
----"Some people extend the rule and insist that, just as that should be used only in restrictive clauses, which should be used only in nonrestrictive clauses. By this thinking, you should avoid using which in sentences such as I need a book which will tell me all about city gardening, where the restrictive clause which will tell me all about city gardening describes what sort of book is needed. But this use of which with restrictive clauses is very common, even in edited prose. If you fail to follow the rule in this point, you have plenty of company. Moreover, there are some situations in which which is preferable to that. Which can be especially useful where two or more relative clauses are joined by and or or: It is a philosophy in which ordinary people may find solace and which many have found reason to praise. You may also want to use which to introduce a restrictive clause when the preceding phrase contains a that: We want to assign only that book which will be most helpful."----

I presume from your posting that you are American. I am amused by your request that the usage be "sanctioned", and that 99% of the British write 'sloppily'. The British attitude to this in general, is that if 99% of people use it that is sanction enough. This of course is the view of all sensible American linguists -- that the sanction comes from the corpus, and not from academics with a bow tie and an attitude problem.

The distinction here is not so much one between British and American English as that American laymen and copyeditors, are often much more rigid than their British counterparts, though there are dinosaurs in the UK as well. Why a copy editor or an English teacher is of the opinion he can write better English than Jane Austen or Dickens is beyond me, but you will see so called grammatical rules broken all the time by writers of their standing.

I give below a list of so-called rules that have no basis in fact but that you will still find in many school or style books.

a) You can't use 'which' in restrictive relative clauses
b) You can't end a sentence with a preposition
c) You can't begin a sentence with 'And' or 'But'.
d) A semi-colon can only be used between two independent sentences (this last 'sin' is one Louis Menand attacked Lynn Truss for although there is no basis for it)
e) You can't/shouldn't split an infinitive
f) "Everybody should bring their book" is incorrect
g) A singular noun should always have a singular verb (completing ignoring the idea of notional agreement).
h) "I've got" is incorrect, and not a British variation on "I have".
i) The use of the subjunctive after 'if' is mandatory and not optional.

I'm sure there are more.

Stephen Jones
Monday, July 19, 2004

>> c) You can't begin a sentence with 'And' or 'But'.

You forgot 'because'.

"You cannot begin a sentence with because because because is a conjunction"

Only meaningful sentence that I know of, which has three conjunctions in row.

KayJay
Monday, July 19, 2004

One, let's punctuate it right.
You can't begin a sentence with 'because', because 'because' is a conjunction.
We can argue for ages over the comma :)

'Because' is a subordinating conjunction and as such can begin a sentence just as 'when', 'after' and 'before' can.

It is however perverse to begin a sentence with the reason for doing something as yet unexplained.

The other time is when 'because' is used in the utterance without the main clause. In that case however 'Because' is not beginning the sentence, as we don't have a sentence to begin.

And, of course, sentences are a Latinate innovation. English got along quite dandy without them until the sixteenth century.

Stephen Jones
Monday, July 19, 2004

---"Only meaningful sentence that I know of, which has three conjunctions in row. "---

Actually, no. The first and third 'becauses' are nouns. It's only the middle one that acts as a conjunction.

Stephen Jones
Monday, July 19, 2004

> c) You can't begin a sentence with 'And' or 'But'

I think the reason for this one, and maybe others as well, is because(ho ho) it is easier to teach the simple case first than more complex cases. If pupils or teachers forget to learn/teach the exceptions then that is another matter. In most cases it _is_ bad form to start a sentence with those words. And I am unanimous on that :-)

You would be taught similar rules when learning a foreign language. When you see those rules being broken in everyday life you first have a brain-fart, then check your sources, then ask a native speaker (who invariably can't explain why it is okay, but insists that it is), and then just get on with it.


Monday, July 19, 2004

These aren't rules of thumb for foreign learners of English. You will find responsible professionals claiming them to be articles of faith.

It's possible that they only sorted out the 'thats' and the 'whiches' when Joel was using 'that' in a non-restrictive clause, but I suspect that what actually happened was that Joel wrote perfectly correct sentences and some copy editor drone went along and changed it to the house style.

Stephen Jones
Monday, July 19, 2004

Re: Conjunctions - Stephen, :-). I know. But try forming one with 'And', 'Or' and 'But'.

As regards "You can't end a sentence with a preposition", I am reminded of the female constable who refused a convict when he *pro*posed marriage ;-)

On a (slightly) serious note, I find it annoying when supposed native speakers of English get confused between 'much' and 'many'. One being countable, the other not.

KayJay
Monday, July 19, 2004

---"I find it annoying when supposed native speakers of English get confused between 'much' and 'many'. "----

Can you give me an example?

Stephen Jones
Monday, July 19, 2004

Can't cite with reference, sorry!

But sentences I've heard (off memory) in Australia, include, "I have had many beer today". Yes, no plural. It is either "I have had many bottles of beer today" or "I have had much beer today".

"It costs much dollars" is , AFAIK, wrong. "It costs much money" or "It costs many dollars". Just two I can think off my head, now.

KayJay
Monday, July 19, 2004

> These aren't rules of thumb for foreign learners of English.

No, I know. They are "rules" often quoted either by teachers or parents. What I was saying is that they are good enough rules of thumb, but that there are exceptions, and the person learning either forgets them or is not taught them. You don't teach someone about complex issues first, instead you give them general rules such as those you mentioned. Like I said, if they then forget those exceptions then that is their own problem.

> You will find responsible professionals claiming them to be articles of faith

Stupid, uneducated, or forgetful "responible professionals". Maybe, like Maggie Thatcher, they were "on holiday at the time" :)


Monday, July 19, 2004

> in Australia, include, "I have had many beer today".

Are you sure it wasn't "I have had (too) many beers today"? It is quite common colloquial English to shorten "bottles/pints/barrels of beer" to "beers".


Monday, July 19, 2004

The semi-colon only between whole clauses rule was by one of the most important journalists in the US (His "The Metaphysical Club" is excellent by the way).

The comments on 'I've got' come from Fitzapatrick whose "Court of Peeves and Crotchets" is one of the most insightful syndicated articles on English usage there is.

Stephen Jones
Monday, July 19, 2004

"My bug fix for THAT bug needs to be tested."

The way you're trying to say it is unnecessarily complicated.

sir_flexalot
Monday, July 19, 2004

Sir Flexalot, "My bug fix for THAT bug needs to be tested." is not the same as ""The bug-fix that needs to be tested is for THAT bug".

KayJay
Monday, July 19, 2004

Stephen

Thanks for the link, and no, I'm a Brit. I spend the majority of my working time rewriting my fellow-countrymen's English, hence my rather jaundiced view of their capabilities!

I totally agree with you that many supposed "rules" of grammar are nonsense, though it is also true that you will find bad writing at some quite exalted levels. My pet hate is people who insist that "none" must always be singular, arguing that it's a contraction of "not one" (it isn't). And to occasionally split an infinitive or two is certainly no crime!

Cheers,

Dave Hallett
Monday, July 19, 2004

Even if it were a contraction of not one it would be void, not singular :)

That was the example I was thinking of when I talked of notional agreement.

None of us need to use a singular verb in sentences like this.

Stephen Jones
Monday, July 19, 2004

Isn't the difference between many and much the same as the difference between fewer and less?  many and fewer are for countable things (like beans), much and less are for, er, measurable things? (like flour, or a length of string).

I should probably add an "I am not a grammar lawyer" disclaimer.

Keith Wright
Monday, July 19, 2004

>But sentences I've heard (off memory) in Australia, include,
>"I have had many beer today". Yes, no plural.
>It is either "I have had many bottles of beer today"
>or "I have had much beer today".

I'm from Australia, and I've never heard that, unless its a new trend in the last couple of years. A lot of people learning English as an additional language tend to cofuse pluralisations a lot. You can understand why though:

1 beer, 2 beers.
1 deer, 2 deer.

And then you have things like your "peers"...

Hmm, sounds like Dr Suess.

I think the correctness of the grammar is also inversely proportional to the amount of beer consumed.

The one that personally bugs me the most is "lose" vs "loose".

Gordon Hartley
Monday, July 19, 2004

much is for uncountables, many for countables.

This is the point Kay Jay was making. I suspect he simply misheard however with the examples he gave.

Stephen Jones
Monday, July 19, 2004

Holy crap!

There is enough material in here for a new Monty Python sketch. Add this to the one where the guy wants to buy an argument.

Cleesaroni
Monday, July 19, 2004

KayJay:

Re:

"I have had many beer today"
"It costs much dollars"

These sound very much like mistakes made by people learning English or who have English as a second language. I can't imagine a native English speaker using such expressions.

You are quite correct though--those are exactly the kind of mistakes that learners might make.

Ian
Monday, July 19, 2004

I swear! On my grandfather's grave! They were footy crazy-beer guzzling-sheila chasing-Aussie blokes!

Seriously, I may be mistaken, as Stephen pointed with the 'beer', it's been a few years now, but with all respects to the resident Aussie Chick, their language skills were, to put it mildly, wanting.

KayJay
Monday, July 19, 2004

Linguists have a whole different take on this.  To a linguist, language is what people actually say or write when they communicate with each other.  We linguists find prescriptive rules to be quite silly.  One way I had this summarized to me is that prescriptive English rules generally just describe the way people talked 50 years ago.

So it would be interesting to get a linguist's perspective on this question, which would come from listening to people and analyzing large bodies of text to figure out what people use most often in various situations.

Jim Rankin
Monday, July 19, 2004

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