Seb from Inverness sent in a question over when to use that and when to use which. I know this is something that vexes many writers, so hope the answer helps.
Seb says: I’m not a novice writer by any means, but I can never decide what the rule is over that and which. Is there a simple way to remember?
Okay, the basic rule is this: if the sentence doesn’t need the clause (it makes sense without) you use which. If the sentence does need the clause you use that.
The car, which is green, has a manual gearbox.
The car that is green has a manual gearbox.
The two sentences look identical at first, but the meanings are not the same.
The car, which is green, has a manual gearbox. This tells us there is only one car and it has a manual gearbox. The clause (the words inside the two commas) isn’t necessary to illustrate the meaning. It is additional information and doesn’t affect the fact there is only one car and it has a manual gearbox.
The car that is green has a manual gearbox. This sentence suggests there is more than one car, but it is the car that is green that has the manual gearbox. The phrase ‘that is green’ is necessary to show clearly of all the cars on the forecourt, it is the green one that has the manual gearbox.
The proper phrase for it is a restrictive clause because another part of the sentence depends on it. You can’t remove that clause (that is green) without changing the meaning of the sentence.
Nancy, who is currently living in Barcelona, is doing a non-fiction writing course. As she says: living abroad, it’s not always easy to carry out research. Do you know of any good reference sites?
As I wasn’t sure what topic or categories would be of benefit, I’ve collected a range of online reference sites, all of which are useful for those of us who have limited access to English language libraries and museums, but are equally useful to readers who aren’t resident abroad.
has built a database on grammar, usage and words, as well as giving a quote of
the week, word of the day, spelling help and origins of words and phrases. http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/
Cambridge dictionary is useful: http://dictionary.cambridge.org/
Merriam Webster www.merriam-webster.com/ is another good online dictionary and http://thesaurus.reference.com/ is useful when an alternative word is needed.
Quotes and Sayings
www.quotesandsayings.com/ is a wonderful site to find quotes by subject or author, excerpts from speeches and poetry, and a good selection of proverbs and sayings. The site also provides the full text of several books by Arthur Conan Doyle and the following works by Shakespeare: All's Well that Ends Well, As You Like It, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, The Taming of the Shrew, The Tempest and his Sonnets.
www.24hourmuseum.org.uk is a gateway to various
museums, galleries and heritage attractions.
www.britishmuseum.org/ provides access to a database of about 5,000 artefacts from the British Museum's collections.
www.cornucopia.org.uk/ produced by the Museums, Libraries and Archive Council, this is an online database of more than 6,000 collections in the UK's museums, galleries, archives and libraries.
www.iwm.org.uk/ The Imperial War Museum covers conflicts from the First World War to the present day.
www.museumspot.com/ is an American site that provides information on museums and galleries worldwide.
www.nationalgallery.org.uk/ the National Gallery Search allows you to explore by artist, subject, theme or title.
www.nationalmediamuseum.org.uk/ the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television gives details of the collections which include the world's first negative and the earliest television footage.
www.npg.org.uk/live/index.asp the National Portrait Gallery lists collections by name of artist or sitter, by medium, or by subject.
www.nhm.ac.uk/ the Natural History Museum has details of the museum's collections, information about research, details of services and access to the catalogue.
www.tate.org.uk/ the Tate Online gives access to works in the Tate Modern, Tate Britain, Tate Liverpool and Tate St Ives.
The British Library http://www.bl.uk/ gives online access to this incredible resource and offers copies of documents for a fee.
www.britannica.com/ is the online version of Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Lorraine Mace is the humour columnist for Writing Magazine and a competition judge for Writers’ Forum. She is a former tutor for the Writers Bureau, and is the author of the Writers Bureau course, Marketing Your Book. She is also co-author, with Maureen Vincent-Northam of The Writer's ABC Checklist (Accent Press). Lorraine runs a private critique service for writers (link below). She is the founder of the Flash 500 competitions covering flash fiction, humour verse and novel openings.
Her debut novel for children, Vlad the Inhaler, will be published in the USA on 2nd April 2014.
Writing as Frances di Plino, she is the author of the crime/thriller series featuring Detective Inspector Paolo Storey: Bad Moon Rising, Someday Never Comes and Call It Pretending.