# That Vs. Which

•  8
A friend asked me to ask this news group about the rules applying to the use of that/which when either might seem correct. I asked for several examples in order to understand his question. He provided a number of alternatives such as:
1. Find the one that has the smallest diameter.
2. Find the one which has the smallest diameter.

Let's put aside that a better sentence construction would eliminate the problem. What guidance can you provide my friend to choose between that and which in sentences similar to those above?
A friend asked me to ask this news group about the rules applying to the use of that/which when either ... which has the smallest diameter. Let's put aside that a better sentence construction would eliminate the problem. . . .

Just why should we avoid recasting the
sentence to solve the real problem, in order
to focus attention on another problem (quest
for rules of syntax) that was not compelling
beforehand, and may be in a sense unreal?
(However unreal, the logic of That and Which is
copiously documented by people ranging from
Fowler to the editors of the New York Times.)
Solution of the current problem by writing:
"Find the one with the smallest diameter"
seems to free us for tackling the next
real problem rather than possibly imaginary ones.

Don Phillipson
dphillipson(at)trytel.com
A friend asked me to ask this news group about ... better sentence construction would eliminate the problem. . . .

Just why should we avoid recasting the sentence to solve the real problem, in order to focus attention on another ... one with the smallest diameter" seems to free us for tackling the next real problem rather than possibly imaginary ones.

Actually, rewriting the sentence as you have done has eliminated both an imaginary problem (no one would confuse "the one which" for a mistaken "the one, which") and a real one ("with" reads much better than "that has"here and cuts the word count by 1 word
4 characters, including the blank space

).
This solution ought to seve as an excellent reason for avoiding artificial grammatical/syntactic quests when discussing a "Which is better/correct, A or B?" question. Sometimes the answer is "Neither. C is the way it should be written". Only when we have to deal with tests that include questions of the type "Choose the BEST answer of the 4 or 5 provided" or "Choose the one that you believe is MOST CORRECT (ie, the one with the greatest amount of correct information and no incorrect information)" is it reasonable to choose to between two lesser possibilities.
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Just why should we avoid recasting the sentence to solve ... tackling the next real problem rather than possibly imaginary ones.

Actually, rewriting the sentence as you have done has eliminated both an imaginary problem (no one would confuse "the one ... the greatest amount of correct information and no incorrect information)" is it reasonable to choose to between two lesser possibilities.

The poor guy was just trying to make up a satisfactory example to illustrate the problem, the issue being choice of relative pronoun in a restrictive dependent clause. I fed him some links (including one to the pertinent article in the AUE FAQ) in response to the same query posted to AEU.
I suppose it's okay to critique the question, but you might want to take a stab at an answer as well.

Bob Lieblich
...
A friend asked me to ask this news group about the rules applying to the use of that/which when either ... problem. What guidance can you provide my friend to choose between that and which in sentences similar to those above?

It's just a matter of taste. About eight times out of ten I'd use "which", but I feel my preference is probably rather old-fashioned; it certainly seems that American usage prefers "that" the MS Word grammar-checker even seems to have been programmed to regard "which" as a mistake, which (note that "which" is obligatory here) it isn't.

Emphasising that what I say is about style, not about correctness, I think I'm inclined not to use "that" when it's the subject of the clause (as above), and more likely to use it when it doesn't refer to a person (i.e. I can use it for "which", not so often for "whom", and very rarely for "who"). E.g., "Here's the hammer that I was looking for". But, of course, in speech I'd almost always say "Here's the hammer I was looking for".
For some reason, as a young man I always felt that "The man that stood by the gate.." had an Irish flavour. It's not wrong.

Mike.
For some reason, as a young man I always felt that "The man that stood by the gate.." had an Irish flavour. It's not wrong.

I wonder then whether Coop's frequent nonstandard "that"s are not, as I had thought, a feature of his native Hoosier dialect variety, but phony attempts at Hibernicization of his speech, similar to his conscious adoption of HBrE usages like "at university", "in hospital", and "the done thing". Unclear.
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Robert Lieblich (Email Removed) burbled
4 characters, including the blank space

).
This solution ought to seve as an excellent reason for ... is it reasonable to choose to between two lesser possibilities.

The poor guy was just trying to make up a satisfactory example to illustrate the problem, the issue being choice ... suppose it's okay to critique the question, but you might want to take a stab at an answer as well.

I did take a stab at it, Bob. I said 'an imaginary problem (no one would confuse "the one which" for a mistaken "the one, which")'. I suppose I ought to be more specific and say that in this particular example. it doesn't matter whether one uses "that" or "which", because there will be no ambiguity or confusion created by the use of "which". That doesn't hold for every instance, of course, just this one. Both sentences are clearly restrictive relatives, IMHO.

I personally prefer to use "that" whenever possible, but I do use "which" when it seems necessary, viz.when there is another "that" almost immediately preceding and using "which" will not causing the reader to pause and wonder whether the clause is introduces it should have been set off by commas.
Ideally, though, I try to eliminate the relative pronoun and verb (if it is a copula) and turn what is left into an adjective phrase, or else replace the relpro and verb with another word, or else rewrite in some other fashion (unless, of course, it's too much work, in which case, the "which" because a real choice).
I'm sorry I didn't understand the context of the post. Mea culpa. I should have done some research before answering.
A friend asked me to ask this news group about the rules applying to the use of that/which when either ... problem. What guidance can you provide my friend to choose between that and which in sentences similar to those above?

I don't see any difference between using 'that' and 'which' in that example. If there was a 'that' or two in the previous sentence, I'd probably tend to use 'which' in this one (or vice versa).

Regards
John
Let's put aside that a better sentence construction would eliminate the problem.

I think that fact should never be put aside.
What guidance can you provide my friend to choose between that and which in sentences similar to those above?

You may or may not know that this is well covered
in Fowler, Strunk, and all those little style guides that pop up on the Web full of solecisms and typos.

It seems to be an issue that falls across a transpondian fault-line. Educated BrE speakers tell me that they prefer "which" for restrictive clauses such as the one in your example; whereas their American cousins generally follow Strunk in preferring "that."
YPYMAYTYC.

Michael West
Melbourne
"I'll have just the one kudo, thanks."
Dennis Callegari
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