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Tip 12: Which or That

‘That’ is a restrictive pronoun, which means that it introduces information that is necessary to the meaning of the sentence and therefore does not need to be set off by commas.

‘Which’ is a nonrestrictive pronoun, which means that it introduces additional information to the sentence and therefore the phrase that it introduces is set off by commas.

 

That

Which

Gives essential information; no commas

Gives added information; requires commas

The toaster is broken.

The toaster that is broken is on the counter.-‘that is broken’ identifies the toaster that I am talking about, as opposed to the new toaster or the antique toaster. . .

The toaster, which is on the counter, is broken.-‘which is on the counter’ is not required information. The point of this sentence is that the toaster is broken.

The computer doesn’t work any more.

The computer that my boss gave me doesn’t work any more.-‘that my boss gave me’ identifies the computer that I am talking about, as opposed to my personal computer or my sister’s computer. . .

The computer, which my boss gave me, doesn’t work any more.-‘which my boss gave me’ is not required information. The point of this sentence is that the computer doesn’t work any more.

The clock is ticking.

The box that I left on your desk is ticking.-‘that I left on your desk’ identifies the box that I am talking about, as opposed to the box that is sitting in the trunk of my car or the box in the janitor’s closet . . .

The box, which I have never seen before, is ticking.-‘which I have never seen before’ is not required information. Who cares if I have never seen it before? It is ticking!

The bottom line: use ‘that’ and no commas with a phrase that is essential to the meaning of your sentence. Use ‘which’ for phrases that are not essential to the meaning of your sentence, but don’t forget to place a comma before ‘which’ and after the last word in the phrase.