That vs. Which, a Curious Conundrum

I should really be writing something that will make me money. This won’t. The problem is that every time I park my behind to write something, there are grammar questions, ones that make me wish I had paid more attention in English class instead of watching Susie’s derriere twitch as she walked to the front of the class to turn in her puuurrfect paper.

Today, I find myself again perplexed by the notion and usage of That vs. Which in proper grammar. Yes, I know my main topic should have been in the first paragraph, rather than leading with than Susie’s shapely rear end, but that’s boring and I don’t care. Oh, the memories, dear Susie.

Anyone who has read more than a few sentences that I’ve stitched together has seen me misuse and/or abuse both of these words. In fact, I may have done so just now, in the previous sentence. I have no idea. The topic is almost as baffling as semicolons, which also make me think of asses, but not in such a nostalgic way as did Susie.

I’m too old to go back to school to learn the proper usage of That vs. Which, and Susie has moved on by now. My brain cells are mostly gone anyway. The ones I hadn’t killed off in my youthful insobriety have fled, screaming, having seen what I did to their brethren.

Needing to understand the difference between That and Which, and which one I should whip out at a given time, I did what any modern writer would do: I consulted the experts on YouTube.

Now, to be fair, I think the people in the videos really were experts. Also to be fair, I wouldn’t know an expert if I saw one, although one did look a bit like Susie.

These experts used a lot of technical jargon, like Identifying Clauses, to help distinguish the cases where That should be used, or where Which should be used. Nobody made any jokes about Who’s on first, but it would have lightened the mood.

As best I can figure, Which should be used when there is additional information to be shared, but when this information is not necessary to understand the sentence’s meaning. That should be used when you need to identify which one we are discussing.

That:

The alligator that bit Grandma had big teeth.

Maybe there were 10 alligators, or 11. The distinction must be made as to which one, and that distinction is made by using That. The other alligators refrained from biting anyone that day and need to be given credit for their good behavior by clarifying which one did the biting.

Which:

The alligator, which had big teeth, bit Grandma.

In this case, the fact, interesting or not, that the alligator had big teeth is not necessary to the sentence’s meaning, so Which would be used. I think. Never mind the fact that the entire sentence, blog post, and most of the internet is not necessary. We’re just talking about Grandma’s alligator here, and grammar, and Susie’s prominent posterior.

I hope today’s lesson on That vs. Which has been educational. If not, go look it up on YouTube. As I am still confused, and perhaps more than before, I’ll see you there.


This is not a poem.

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