Grammar Question for Valerie Bang-Jensen

Now that I’ve been schooled in the ways of ‘I’ vs. ‘me’ (not that I’ve completely reformed), I feel that I need some help on the “which” vs. “that” front. I’ve a vague feeling that I’m forever using the wrong one of these in the wrong place. Please help.

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Valerie Bang-Jensen's picture
Valerie Bang-Jensen on February 27, 2006 - 14:38

Hi Peter,
Now that you’ve outed your faithful reader from Vermont as a grammar maven, I’ll try to respond. The truth is, I am more curious about grammar than knowledgeable, and I find that to be a useful stance. My favorite source is a humorous book called Woe Is I, by Patricia T. O’Conner. In consulting her pages, here’s what I found (pp.3-4):
“The old that-versus-which problem haunts everybody sooner or later. Here are two rules to help you figure out whether a clause (a group of words iwth its own subject and verb) should start with that or which.
-If you can drop the clause and not lose the point of the sentence, use which. If you can’t, use that.
-A which clause goes inside commas. A that clause doesn’t.”
And she gives the examples:
“Buster’s bulldog, which had one white ear, won best in show.
The dog that won best in show was Buster’s bulldog.”

Finally, she ends with a ditty:
“Commas, which cut out the fat,
Go with which, never with that.”

Good luck!

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